It’s easy to imagine people leaving Puzzle saying, “That’s what my mother’s life was like.” That’s why it’s resistible. It takes place now, but it’s like the realm our mothers lived in, as if nothing had changed in decades.
Here’s a story of a married woman’s affair, and the dynamics between her, her husband Louie (David Denman) and her sons—the way the family circle is observed is absolutely pre-sitcom. Puzzle’s put-upon Connecticut homemaker Mata, called Agnes, tells us she has no sense of humor, none, never had it, never will, but that doesn’t mean that the world around her will have gone humorless.
Agnes is played by the Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald with an unplaceable accent (she’s revealed to be Hungarian). She practically lives in Catholic purdah, chained to the duties of taking care of the house, the overweight, snoring Louie and the grown-up sons. At the beginning Agnes is the subject of a sad birthday party where the men swill beer and belch. She has to make her own cake and light her own candles, and sweep up on her hands and knees when her clumsy spouse breaks one of her favorite dishes.
Piecing the broken plate together, as well as the birthday gift of a jigsaw puzzle, triggers something—she finds a flair for doing puzzles. She encounters, via a Manhattan puzzle store, Robert (Irrfan Khan), an independently wealthy competitive jigsaw player. She lies about her trips to New York City to train for a contest; the lies are at first innocent and later on, not so much. In the background is family drama. Louie and Agnes’ eldest son Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) doesn’t want to work for the family auto body shop. He’d prefer the unmanly (according to Louie) profession of chef. Wouldn’t Louie have heard of Gordon Ramsay?
Macdonald is good in the kind of part Edie Falco could have knocked home. She’s not a mouse, displaying a certain flash in her dark eyes, along with moments of grit. Producer turned director Marc Turtletaub does a few things to place these characters in our time, referencing iPhones and son Gabe’s vegetarian girlfriend. But this movie is about a lost world, with the actors laboring to make it real in a plot that lays it on too thick. It’s distracting to try to figure out why the son who loves cooking couldn’t bother to light up his mother’s birthday cake. That Puzzle is a remake of a 2009 Argentinian movie might explain it—maybe it’s still this bad in Argentina?
Directed by Marc Turtletaub. Starring Kelly Macdonald, David Denman and Irrfan Khan. R; 102 Mins.