Puzzle opens Edinburgh Film Festival 2018
Emerging from the ashes of Weinstein in the wake of #MeToo, female-led movies are going through a long-deserved Renaissance – or, at the very least, the beginnings of one. The problem of toxic masculinity and patriarchal control are approached in movies like Edie and Let the Sunshine In, as well as the HBO series Big Little Lies, from an entirely female perspective. And now Puzzle, the second feature directed by eminent indie producer Marc Turtletaub, is another admirable attempt – though it falls short of its intentions.
A remake of the 2009 film by Argentinian filmmaker Natalia Smirnoff, the feature follows Agnes (Kelly MacDonald), a repressed Catholic housewife who escapes her drab existence by completing jigsaw puzzles. In her house, and her neighbourhood, she is expected to serve the males in her life – especially her patriarchal husband Louie (David Denman). But when she meets Robert (Irrfan Khan), an existential man of wealth who enters “puzzling” competitions, the protagonist starts to re-evaluate her life.
There are many reasons to root for Agnes. In the opening scene she prepares for a party, clears away after her husband and the guests and prepares a cake – we’re left speechless after realising it’s her own birthday they’re celebrating. She cooks, cleans, buys the food – and when she doesn’t fulfil even one of these tasks, her husband is dumbfounded. Through puzzles and her hidden life with Robert (which sprouts into a romance), Agnes slowly integrates herself into the real world. And as she changes, as she stands up for herself, we can’t help but cheer.
But in Turtletaub’s direction and the screenplay by Oren Moverman and Polly Mann, there’s a regrettable rush to tell too many things at once. Instead of stopping and ceasing on one moment, we’re given a flurry of many. There are few scenes that are focused on the powerful emotions flowing onscreen, or which convey how much Agnes’s actions are tearing her up inside. MacDonald’s performance is heartfelt enough to persuade the audience otherwise – she creates waves of intense feeling burrowing on the inside, desperate to escape. But it’s not long before we’re suddenly ripped away.
Puzzle has its charm and a heroine you feel excited to follow during her evolution. The haste of the scenes and the awkwardly written romance between Agnes and Robert are hard to ignore – but, for a film centring on jigsaws, it’s fun to watch.
Puzzle is released nationwide on 24th August 2018.
Watch the trailer for Puzzle here: