Sundance 2018: Kelly Macdonald is Delightful in Turtletaub's 'Puzzle'
by Alex Billington
January 24, 2018
Who knew a film about putting together puzzles would be this adorable? Puzzle is the second feature film from veteran producer-turned-filmmaker Marc Turtletaub (Gods Behaving Badly), and it's just perfect. Going in to see this at the Sundance Film Festival, I was curious to find out what a film about a woman who discovers she's good at putting together puzzles would be about. I'm happy to report that it's an absolute delight. Puzzle is a charming, understated, quiet little film that will melt your heart, and make you laugh, and give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. The whole time I was watching this film, I had that warm, gushy feeling inside my chest, like you're falling in love with someone. It's thanks to the wonderful lead performance by Kelly Macdonald and the story, which is about a woman learning to be herself and do whatever she wants.
With a screenplay by Oren Moverman, and direction by Marc Turtletaub, Puzzle has a fairly innocuous and pleasant premise. Kelly Macdonald plays a humble, reserved housewife who lives with her loving family in the Delaware suburbs near New York City. One day a friend gives her a puzzle for her birthday, and she becomes obsessed with putting it together. When she wanders into New York City to buy more puzzles, she meets Robert, played by Irrfan Khan a lonely, wealthy, genius inventor who lives in a huge place in the city. He is looking for a puzzle partner, and the two bond over time practicing putting together puzzles in order to compete in a national puzzle competition. Both help each other grow. The film is really about Macdonald's character Agnes, and how she grows to reject the domicile life and figure out who she really is.
This very simple, lovely film exceeds mostly thanks to the two outstanding lead performances from Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan. They make for such an awkward relationship, but there's a certain amount of chemistry between them that shines through. Each one of them gives a particularly spectacular, nuanced performance. Macdonald is much more reserved, but the way she delivers her lines and quips is perfection. This is where most of the comedy comes from because as she begins to evolve, she slowly learns to respond with "no" instead of "yes" all the time. Khan, on the other hand, speaks slowly and seems so tired of life, but he still has a tender heart buried deep within him. And it's easy to sense this and it brings a certain amount of warmth to his character. Their chemistry isn't sweltering but it becomes the key factor in her transition.
I really adore this film and can already say it's one of my favorites of the Sundance Film Festival. There's a very sweet score by Dustin O'Halloran that is used occasionally to add another light layer of emotion. The cinematography by DP Chris Norr is sublime, with perfect shots of Macdonald waiting to catch her train to/from the big city. Most of all, the film is the really subtle but strong story of a woman learning how to be herself and reject the home life where she is just a slave to the men (and others) around her. This is worked in very subtly, but the nuances in Macdonald's performance are what make it so strong. It's remarkable how good this movie is, how such a simple story told with such humility and sensibility, can result in a wonderful film. Puzzle, like one of my other favorite indies, Paterson, is lean, enjoyable, charming, poetic perfection.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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