Puzzle is a new independent drama from producer/director Marc Turtletaub. The story follows an unfulfilled suburban housewife named Agnes who receives a birthday gift in the form of a jigsaw puzzle and from there on out goes on a life-changing journey of self-discovery. I was excited for Puzzle because I loved putting together puzzles growing up. Unfortunately, the movie I ended up seeing was not satisfying enough to decipher again.
On a technical level, Puzzle is right in the middle. Even though Turtletaub is known for producing several successful indies such as Little Miss Sunshine and Safety Not Guaranteed, and he apparently directed a feature released in 2013 called God Behaving Badly, but seeing that beforehand may not change how I feel about this one. Turtletaub frames his shots so that they are not always stationary. Chris Norr uses reflections to try conveying narrative meaning within his cinematography, and Catherine Height assembles a basic sequence of events with her editing. However, none of those qualities felt different and therefore never truly impressed me, which is ironic since the movie is about puzzles. A better crew probably could have made a visually appealing movie with this concept. As for the music, Dustin O’Halloran composes a piano heavy score that sounds rather forgettable since it mostly recycles the theme in uninteresting ways. To be fair, using elements from a musical theme in different tracks can work, but not here.
By far, performances are the best part of Puzzle, but not enough to save it. Scottish actress, Kelly Macdonald, lands her first non-animated lead role and proves here why she needs more. From the first scene onward, we realize that Agnes’s family does not appreciate her enough and we can sympathize with her as a result. The spot-on American accent also helps. David Denman of The Office fame plays Agnes’s husband Louis who tries to support her despite not understanding her struggles. Sure, Denham plays another working-class asshole romantic partner but here he plays that role with some sincerity. Hopefully, he will branch off into other roles someday. Irrfan Khan portrays Robert, the most intriguing character out of the three leads. As Agnes’s new friend, Robert provides many of the movie’s comedic moments and even has an interesting backstory. However, none of these characters rise above their roles and that is not specifically the actors’ faults.
The screenplay of Puzzle is where most of my problems lie. Going into a movie about jigsaw puzzles, I was hoping for a complex story with plenty of twists and turns. Instead, I watched a predictable narrative that is not all that different from movies with similar plots and that barely has anything to do with puzzles. Puzzle also tries to tackle other issues such as faith but does not handle as creatively as much better films such as Lady Bird and Prisoners. The slow pacing does not make this movie any less predictable. Puzzle also feels disjointed at times; certain subplots never receive proper resolution and the movie even finds an odd way to pay off a specific plot point—you’ll know when you see it. Now I was arguably the youngest out of the few people in my theater and one of them told me that he thought this movie was excellent; therefore, I simply may not fall into the intended audience. Nevertheless, I would not have been as interested in Puzzle if I actually knew what it was. Similarly, there was no reason to rate this movie R outside of character dropping the F-bomb. This movie features a subject matter that is appropriate for families which is why a PG-13 rating would’ve worked better.
Verdict: 2.5 out of 5
Puzzle did not make me mad, but it is not a movie I would celebrate either. Aside from the performances, Puzzle is a disposable laidback drama that is not distinguishable from the mold. Anyone who is fan of these actors will enjoy it the most; otherwise, this movie is not worth rushing out to a theater for.