Last night I saw Puzzle, starring Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan.
Agnes (Macdonald) is a content Connecticut housewife in a traditional Patriarchal Catholic marriage to Louie (David Denman), who with help from their eldest son, runs the local auto body shop. They have another, younger son who appears somewhat spoiled.
In the first scene of the film, we see Agnes act as a gracious hostess to a house full of people—she cleans up after a dish breaks, brings cake out for all to enjoy. What we soon realize is that the birthday party she's so carefully attending to is her own. In perhaps the saddest sequence, we see her open her presents, alone, after all the guests are gone and she's thoroughly cleaned the home.
Among those gifts is a 1,000-piece puzzle from her aunt who lives in New York City. The way she carefully opens the puzzle, studying it before practically attacking it on the table, lets us know that puzzles mean something to her.
She's very fast at constructing them and treats them almost like a drug—she sneaks around putting them together, becomes preoccupied thinking about them and has a visceral reaction to their completion.
Needing another "fix" she calls her aunt to inquire about where she found the one she got for her birthday. The aunt directs her to a store in Manhattan and soon she's making a day trip on the train there to feed her habit. In the store, she notices a flyer someone has posted who is seeking a puzzle partner for an upcoming competition. Intrigued, she uses her new iPhone (a birthday gift from her family) to text the gentleman and soon meets up with him in his New York City apartment.
Robert (Khan) is living an opposite lifestyle from her—he's wealthy, single and glued to the 24-hour news channels. She is bound by her duty to family and church, making sure dinner is on the table each night and the chores are properly done.
Though different, the two enjoy each other's company and agree to be partners, working toward a title at the Nationals. Agnes keeps this all from her family, who think she's aiding an injured relative when she ventures into the city twice a week.
Of course, the metaphor is strong—as Agnes succeeds in putting the puzzles together with Robert, the pieces of what's missing in her own life also begin to fall into place.
Her husband isn't "bad" enough to be unlikeable, but we still root for Robert, if nothing else because we know he'll let Agnes flourish however she chooses to.
The performances, especially by the two leads, are nothing short of perfection, which helps us believe a situation like this could happen.
A satisfying and strangely empowering film.