Puzzle review: Opening this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival is Marc Turtletaub’s Scottish drama about a suburban mother who finds a new life solving jigsaw puzzles.

Puzzle review by Awais Irfan.

Puzzle review
Puzzle review

To kick off this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival and our own coverage of the fest here on the site. Scotland’s very own Kelly Macdonald brings her latest starring role as the timid Agnes in Marc Turtletaub’s Puzzle for the Opening Gala film but is it worth your time?

Agnes (Macdonald) lives for her husband Louie (David Denman) and two sons Gabe (Austin Abrams) and Ziggy (Bubba Weiler); she works to routine, so much so that she is able to count down her alarm and predict every word her husband says as he asks for 5 more minutes in bed every morning. Her life is a content but restricted one as Agnes lives to serve the men in her life, very rarely wandering from the confines of her own home other than to the grocery store and occasional Church meeting. However, when she discovers a knack and passion for puzzles, her routine is thrown into flux when she meets the offbeat inventor and fellow puzzler Robert (Irrfan Khan) and the pair hit it off as Puzzle partners and begin training together for an upcoming puzzle competition.

Writer Oren Moverman adapts the story from 2010 Argentinian version of the film with the same name, and whilst it’s quirky and off-beat in its nature, it’s quite clunky in its writing and the way it manoeuvres and so feels a little too scattered to shine as it perhaps could have. That’s not to say that Puzzle is bad: far from it. But, really, it’s just fine. The characters come across as fairly thin and there’s never quite a character we can connect with, because the film makes it difficult to always root for Agnes – whether this is purposeful or not, it means she jumps back and forth between being charming to watch and utterly frustrating and it can mean her journey throughout this story is constantly all over the place and we find ourselves never quite caring for her the way we should? The core of Puzzles, however, is Agnes’ relationships with her family and new acquaintance Robert but, similarly, these relations are also all over the place; in the case of the latter, the whole Robert/Agnes dynamic feels very stilted and forced for so long that we just can’t believe their friendship or the ways in which their relationship develops beyond puzzling partners.

Related: Edinburgh Film Festival Opener Puzzle Gets A New Trailer

Aside from a very cluttered, jarring and unfocused screenplay though that leads to a very jagged pacing and the occasional sigh of “What? Really? Ugh”, there is a lot to like about Puzzle. For starters, its slick in its execution; Turtletaub’s direction is pretty solid and the ways in which he blocks and frames his subjects and moves the camera around them is very fascinating and entertaining. The cinematography from Chris Norr is equally as impressive, with gorgeous and memorable shots aplenty throughout the film. There is warmth and charm that emanates from Movermen’s screenplay too, despite its flaws; the performances, however, are what keep this a film so watchable. Kelly Macdonald is magnetic to watch as Agnes, really working a tricky character and some iffy writing into a very timid and often innocuous performance that is full of heart and humanity; Irrfan Khan is also brilliant, his ego is flashy and his character is quite the larger-than-life persona and it’s a lot of fun watching Khan bring him to life. The scenes involving the pair puzzling away in the quiet, working off of one another, are amongst the film’s best; again, it’s just a shame the writing lets them down when it comes to the actual chatting occurring between them.

Not much goes on within the 100-minutes or so runtime of Puzzle; the story leaves a lot unanswered and feels of such minuscule consequence. It’s not a film you’ll certainly be remembering for to long. Despite this though, there is enough whimsicality to make this a watchable piece that will even make you smile on occasion. It’s competently made, well-acted, occasionally charming, every so often funny, and just a perfectly adequate and average film. It’s the kind of film that you could easily dip into should be it showing on TV late one night – offering enough to engage, albeit if never challenge. The whole experience of watching Puzzle is sort of like completing one in itself: should you choose to indulge, you’ll be mildly entertained as it kills some time but, once it’s done, you’ll probably not care all that much and never really think back to it. It happened. And that’s that.

Puzzle review by Awis Irfan, June 2018.

Puzzle was reviewed at the 2018 Edinburgh Interntional Film Festival.