Truth and Movies


Review by Hannah Woodhead @thethirdhan

Directed by

Marc Turtletaub


David Denman Irrfan Khan Kelly Macdonald


Like puzzles. Like Kelly Macdonald.


Terribly earnest, but that’s not really enough.

In Retrospect.

The pieces don’t quite fit together.

Kelly Macdonald shines in this character study of a woman with a knack for problem-solving.

Based on the 2010 Argentine film of the same name, Marc Turtletaub’s Puzzle has a fairly simple premise. Agnes, a meek housewife and technophobe living in Upstate New York, discovers she has a talent for jigsaw puzzles after receiving one for her birthday.

Feeling unappreciated by her husband and sons, she answers an ad placed by eccentric inventor Robert, who is seeking a partner for the National Jigsaw Championships. Yet far from providing any insight into the very real world of competitive puzzling, the film itself centres on the metaphorical puzzle of Agnes herself.

As a character study, the film hinges on the performance of Kelly Macdonald, who plays Agnes as a vulnerable woman doing her best. But she alone can’t save the film’s shaky narrative, and there’s a sense from start to finish that Agnes is a tragic character who needs saving from the miserable hand life has dealt her.

All the men in her life are unpleasant, with the exception of her eldest son Ziggy, who shares some of Agnes’ unhappiness, having been employed at his father’s auto shop despite having a secret desire to become a chef. Yet this is an unexplored side plot – when Agnes remarks “He’s a really good cook!” we have to take her word for it, because the only time he’s shown cooking on-screen is when he makes the family eggs for breakfast.

Puzzle is more an exercise in telling than showing, which is a pity, since the cinematography is particularly strong. A plinky-plonk piano score adds to the sentimentality, and as Agnes is the only character afforded any sort of depth, it’s difficult to see her husband Louie or puzzle partner Robert as anything other than thinly-sketched outlines.

The film’s attempts to paint a picture of life in middle America are similarly unconvincing. Agnes is a technophobe, suspicious of the iPhone she’s gifted for her birthday, but there’s never any reason given for her aversion to modern technology, or much insight into why she enjoys puzzling so much, besides a vague hint that she might have an undiagnosed mental health condition.

Given Macdonald’s warmth and presence this film really ought to be more charming than it is; there’s just not enough of a story here. Characters make strange decisions, and the jigsaw MacGuffin is a poor metaphor for trying to make order out of chaos.

Published 6 Sep 2018

Tags: Kelly Macdonald Marc Turtletaub


Like puzzles. Like Kelly Macdonald.


Terribly earnest, but that’s not really enough.

In Retrospect.

The pieces don’t quite fit together.

Suggested For You

Adult Life Skills

By Sophie Monks Kaufman

Jodie Whittaker delivers a commanding performance in this acutely observed Brit comedy.


Goodbye Christopher Robin

By Trevor Johnston

The creation of Winnie the Pooh is the fascinating subject of this unfocused screen biography.


Leave No Trace

By David Jenkins

Debra Granik’s tender story of a father and daughter living off the grid is one of the year’s very best.

review LWLies Recommends

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.