(Release Info London schedule; September 1st, 2018, Electric Portobello, 12:00)
"Puzzle" is a closely observed portrait of Agnes (Kelly MacDonald), who has reached her early 40s without ever venturing far from home, family or the tight-knit immigrant community in which she was raised by her widowed father. That begins to change in a quietly dramatic fashion when Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle as a birthday gift and experiences the heady thrill of not only doing something she enjoys, but being very, very good at it. After years of concerning herself exclusively with the needs and wants of her husband Louie (David Denman) and sons Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams), Agnes has found something that she wants to do. Stepping out of her domestic bubble to pursue her new hobby, Agnes meets Robert (Irrfan Khan), a wealthy, reclusive inventor who immediately recognizes her talent and recruits her as his partner for an upcoming world jigsaw tournament. Each day she spends out in the world, puzzling and conversing with Robert, takes Agnes further along on the road to a new understanding of herself and her strengths. With that understanding come new insights and an assertiveness that finds her speaking out on her own behalf and pushing back against the assumptions and routines that have until now defined her role in her family. Ultimately, Agnes will decide for herself what comes next.
This is a story so rarely seen in film, one about a woman over 40 finding her true self. Agnes is a suburban woman who has spent her entire life attending to her father, husband, and sons until she discovers, in the most unlikely of ways, her own voice. It's about a mother who dotes on her husband and sons and didn’t get to live the life she would have liked to live. It's the idea of a woman who finds a way out of a world that keeps her very limited when she has all this potential. She has a real voice and ultimately makes choices that are first and foremost right for her, and not just for the people in her environment. The film reveals all these little gems about her as it progresses. She’s a believer in order and routine; running the household and tending to husband and sons as she tended to her widowed father before them; volunteering at church; cooking dinner for the family. A birthday gift of an iPhone bewilders her, she’s firmly in the analog world, but a gift of a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle absorbs her with unexpected delight. Agnes secretly thinks of herself as a mathematician; her mind silently whirs away beneath her placid exterior, and her flair with puzzles shifts this clamped-down part of her persona into gear. She's living the life she knows. And then as she discovers this unique talent that she has, a door is opened on a world that she didn’t know existed.
Robert, is at a low point in his life when he meets Agnes. His wife has abruptly left him and he has given up on his career as an inventor, certain that his breakthrough discovery is all he will ever be able to achieve. Robert has closed his doors to everybody but he’s looking for something to engage him emotionally. When Agnes comes to his house, he’s not ready for a relationship at all. But he's drawn to her personality. There’s some distinct quality about her, which is very spontaneous. She has an intelligence and perceptiveness about the world. When they meet, she's in her shell, he's in his shell. Somehow, together, those shells are broken. If Robert falls in love with the unexpected side of Agnes’s character, her husband values her solid, reliable predictability above all else.
Louie is a hard- working auto mechanic whose conception of family is the one he grew up with; the husband is the breadwinner, head of the family and sole decision maker; the wife stays home and tends to her husband, children and household. Louie has very strong ideas about what everyone's role in the family should be, and that's worked all right for him for twenty years. He’s a good guy, but there’s a lot he doesn’t understand about his wife, a lot he doesn’t understand about his kids. When Agnes begins standing up for herself and challenging his ideas, it shakes the foundation of everything that he's known, everything that they've had and been through. Initially, he’s very defensive and confused; it doesn't make sense to him. But then he has to regroup and reassess the situation and we see him begin to make changes. The character of Louie presents certain challenges as a man who loves his wife but has also failed to see her fully. Because he loves Agnes, Louie tries to change. And as much as we see his weaknesses, we begin to see a different Louie.
Ziggy has always appreciated and connected to his mother. He's heartened by her burgeoning independence. Agnes is Ziggy’s best friend. They're so in tune with each other and they can read each other's feelings in a way that the rest of the family just doesn’t. When Ziggy sees Agnes becoming more confident and coming into herself, it inspires him to do the same thing. Younger brother Gabe is a bit spoiled and cocky, not only does he fail to lift a finger around the house, but he expects his mom to prepare a special diet for his vegan Buddhist girlfriend at the family dinner table. Gabe is trying to get outside of the family, and his girlfriend is helping him open up to new ways of thinking. Gabe is aware that his mom is very sheltered and giving her the iPhone is his way of encouraging her to do that for herself. To discover such a story in a screenplay as powerful as this is irresistible.
"Puzzle" is adapted from the Argentine film "Rompecabezas" (Spanish for puzzle). The film’s sensibility is very Argentinian, but it has a universal story about a middle-aged woman who's been underestimated and taken for granted by her family. She discovers she has this talent for jigsaw puzzling and secretly enters a competition with a man she meets through an ad. The puzzles are the catalyst for figuring out her life and relationships and making choices. That’s something anybody can identify with. It's a very specific way to show a woman waking up and reckoning with her life. It’s small but it’s hers and it’s real. As singular as Agnes is, her story speaks to something universal. That idea of following your heart, of following your passion, and allowing yourself to be happy is something that will resonate with people. Everybody’s got their special gift, And not everybody is fortunate enough to find it or to recognize as a gift. Because it’s a simple thing, jigsaw puzzling, it’s not like the theory of everything or something that’s going to change the world. But Agnes certainly changes a few lives in the time that we see her in the film. She changes everybody in her life and changes her life.
Life is random, but when you finish a puzzle you know you’ve made all the right choices. This wistful observation articulates the subtle lure of puzzles in this quietly surprising character drama. You think of jigsaw puzzling as something incredibly solitary and inward, something that pulls you into a smaller world, but in "Puzzle", this very solitary activity actually opens up the world for the heroine.