First Hit: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.
There was a moment in this film when Robert (Irrfan Khan), tells his new jigsaw puzzling partner Agnes’ (Kelly Macdonald), that what makes puzzling so satisfying is that it is one of the few things in life that she can control completely. His dialogue is far more eloquent than how I wrote this previous sentence; however, it doesn’t take away from the truth of it.
Agnes is married to Louie (David Denman) who owns an auto repair business. Their youngest son Gabe (Austin Abrams) is sometimes seen as the “prince” of the two boys because he gets good grades in high-school. The older boy Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) works at his dad’s auto repair garage and is both sullen and lost in life.
Louie runs the show at home because Agnes has served her family as she thought her role was. It is generally felt that she didn’t deserve to have her own desires and wishes paid attention to. In fact, she has totally ignored herself. She takes care of the men in her life doing everything for them, their laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking them their meals. She serves in her church the same way.
At a birthday party gives herself, because no one else would have, she gets an iPhone from her family which she resists and also a 1,000, piece puzzle. Feeling down and acknowledging an inner curiosity, she pulls out the puzzle box and works to solve it.
Watching her solve the puzzle, the audience sees a subtle glow of satisfaction at accomplishing something on her own. A spark has been lit and it was perfectly shared with the audience. Curiously pulling out an old puzzle in the basement she finds that at only 100 pieces, she solves it quickly and with less satisfaction.
Calling the person who gave her the puzzle to find out where it was purchased, she's told that it was at a small store an intersection in New York City. Agnes’ facial expression was perfect. She hadn’t been into NYC for years and had been stuck in her little town. The trip to the city was priceless as the cost of the train and taxi to the little puzzle store, both surprised and intimidated her.
Leaving the shop with two new puzzles, she sees a posting for someone looking for a puzzle partner. She writes down the texting phone number. Sending a text, it gets immediately responded to. She goes back into the city to meet Robert who tells her he’s looking for someone to partner with in a puzzling competition. Taken slightly aback she decides to interview for this partnership by doing a puzzle with and for him. Completing the puzzle in record time, he’s impressed.
This is the films’ set-up. The rest of the film is a wonderfully paced story about how through this puzzling partnership, Agnes discovers her herself and her voice not only towards Robert but also her family. One of the most beautiful scenes was when she goes to help sort out Louie’s invoices and books, when her and Ziggy get into a conversation and he admits, he’d like to be a chef and that is the only thing he really enjoys doing.
There are wonderful scenes of Agnes and Robert puzzling, Agnes using her voice to tell her family subtly and not so subtly that this are changing for her and therefore them. She does this with love in her heart and without anger or malice.
Macdonald was sublime. I was captured by her micro expressions of strength, sadness, love, and guilt. I was fully transfixed on her expressions as well as physical movements. Khan was fantastic as the inventor who fell in love with Agnes and that puzzling filled his life with controlled joy. Denman was perfect as Agnes’ husband in that he felt he was man of the house, charged with making all the decisions, yet his vulnerability was exquisite when he asked if she was having an affair. Abrams was very good as the younger, easy going son who felt a bit entitled. Weiler was amazing as the struggling son, looking for a way through life where he might be happy. Polly Mann and Oren Moverman wrote a strong, true to life, script. Marc Turtletaub, with a light touch, deftly guided this film to wring out wonderful performances from everyone.
Overall: This film was a true surprise in how much I enjoyed Agnes’ journey.