PUZZLE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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PUZZLE POSTERKelly Macdonald is never less than good and often much better than that in just about every film and TV show I’ve seen her in – Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. She even summoned considerable vocal spunk as rebellious young royal Merida in Pixar’s Brave. But the Scottish actress rarely gets to fully stretch her wings in an expansive lead role. Puzzle, however, puts her front and center as Agnes, a meek and underappreciated 40-ish New Jersey homemaker who dotes on her two bordering-on-adult sons and her burly car-repair garage owner husband, Louie (David Denman, in a role that might be described as John Goodman lite) while being resigned to a sheltered existence of suburban domesticity. But after a birthday celebration in her honor — one that is meticulously planned and executed by all by herself — she undergoes an unexpected midlife rebirth after receiving a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. Unbeknownst to Agnes, not only is she a whiz at solving the puzzle, but her self-worth is buoyed by her newly discovered expertise at swiftly putting together interlocking cardboard pieces. Continue reading…

Suddenly, her tiny world begins to expand after she takes a rare train sojourn to New York City to a retail haven that caters to jigsaw devotees. There, she spies a flier from a puzzler seeking a partner to play with and ends up connecting with Robert, an independently wealthy East Indian in Manhattan who wants Agnes assist him in a competition. As personified by the always-watchable Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire, The Namesake and Life of Pi), this charming rascal of a lay-about who spends his days watching disasters unfold on the news holds the key to allowing Agnes to reconfigure the pieces of her own mundane life.

As directed by Marc Turtletaub (the producer of Little Miss Sunshine and Loving) and written by Oren Moverman (director of The Messenger and Rampart), the low-key Puzzle inches close to metaphorical overkill at times but avoids most of the mad-housewife type clichés. Instead of histrionics, this adaptation of a 2010 Argentinian release helmed and written by Natalia Smirnoff, opts for quieter moments backed by the soft strains of a lilting piano score that features Ava Maria prominently and overhead shots of a waning moon in the sky. Some might feel cheated that the ending that doesn’t conclude with the contest, but instead focuses on the path that Agnes chooses for herself. It is the audience who wins, however, thanks to Macdonald’s gently nuanced performance.

motw logo 1-35EDITOR’S NOTE: Puzzle is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for July 27, 2018.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.