Puzzle

There was a sports movie earlier this year, based on a true story about a high school volleyball player that died at the start of the season. One of the complaints critics had is that volleyball just isn’t an exciting sport to watch on the big screen. Well, volleyball looks like MMA fighting compared to jigsaw puzzles. Trying to find the right shape, or color of a piece, just isn’t compelling cinema. I was yearning for someone to pick up a Rubik’s cube and quickly complete it.

I’ve also grown tired of these stories with older people, going through some kind of midlife crisis, but bonding with another over something like chess (the Kevin Kline movie Queen to Play), or over driving lessons (Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson in Learning to Drive).

It’s great to see talented actress Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, No Country for Old Men, Brave) get a starring role as Agnes, the bored, frustrated housewife in Marc Turtletaub’s film.

Early on, he helps you understand her plight. At a birthday party, she’s cleaning up broken dishes, handing out plates of food, and lighting candles and bringing the chocolate cake out — for her own birthday party. I give him credit for not going over the top with certain things. For example, her husband might look like a flabby, beer drinking loser that’s a mechanic. Okay, he is. Yet he has a few cute jokes with her, and he can be affectionate at times. He’s not just coming home yelling “Where the hell is dinner?!” He seems to be a hard-working guy who loves his family and is a decent father (we see him snap at one of the kids for cursing).

I take away the credit when Turteltaub has cliche things like her listening to his annoying snoring, or an ending that’s not only cliche, but won’t be satisfying to anyone watching this.

The two kids also frustrate Agnes, for different reasons. In fact, all the family dynamics were done well. It’s once Agnes hooks up with a fellow puzzle fan, that things don’t quite work.

Actor Irrfan Khan (the “Life of Pi guy” as I call him) is always great on screen, but the two of them don’t have the best chemistry. Part of that is on purpose. Agnes is so uncomfortable in her own skin, she has a hard time talking to anyone. My wife and I both found this rather irritating, and we never really warmed up to her the way they wanted us to. Yet as smart as she is, her character traits really don’t make sense unless she is on the autism spectrum, and I don’t believe that’s what the filmmakers intended.

Khan plays Robert, a rich inventor, that waxes philosophic in ways that are often sophomoric.

Yet they both love puzzles, so they agree to team up and practice for the big competition (what? You didn’t know there was a big jigsaw puzzle competition?). His wife recently left him, and since she’s not happy in her marriage…do you think it’s just pieces of a puzzle they’ll be putting together?

The way Agnes acts is so awkward and bizarre, I told my wife it would have worked better if this was a housewife in 1952, that stayed at home and wasn’t fulfilled by just that. She replied, “Well, she dresses like somebody from the ‘50s or 60s.”

I understand her not being thrilled with an iphone she got as a gift, and not wanting to deal with apps and things she can’t figure out, but she doesn’t seem to be able to figure a lot of things out.

Her voice, and actions, reminded me of how annoyed I was by Sally Field in Hello, My Name is Doris.

Basically, Agnes is just a bit too weird to ever care that much about.

The movie also needed a bit more humor. There’s one line where Robert explains the difference between coincidence and irony to Agnes, and that was cute; but screenwriter Oren Moverman gave us The Messenger (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson), which made my Top 10 list when it came out. I expected a bit more from him.

This just has a few too many pieces missing from the puzzle for me to recommend.

2 stars out of 5.