A reminder that quiet and subtle are not the same things, Marc Turtletaub's earnest, compassionate character study Puzzle — adapted from Argentine director Natalia Smirnoff's superior Rompecabezas (2010) -- is likely to charm and move audiences even as its particulars often fail to suggest the real world. That's a testament to the strength of the original story, sort of A Doll's House but with jigsaw puzzles, and to the performances of Turtletaub's cast, especially Kelly Macdonald. That underemployed Scottish marvel plays Agnes, a Connecticut housewife whose days revolve around her boys: nudging her mechanic husband from his snoring slumber, whipping up breakfast for him and their two sons, cleaning up and running errands, then prepping a dinner that includes niceties nobody wants to hear about. But it's one thing to make a film about a Connecticut woman alienated from the internet, from specialty diets, from that utterly alien iPhone that she dismisses as a "little robot" she'll only use in emergencies. It's another to ask us to accept that she doesn't even know these things exist.
Her life and the movie perk up when she discovers a talent for quickly completing jigsaw puzzles. She partners up with a puzzle pro, played with an air of exquisite boredom by a very funny Irrfan Khan, for competitions. He's a listless millionaire inventor who comes to prize her quirks and beauty. To its credit, neither Puzzle nor Agnes mistake a chance at urbane adultery for a simple catch-all cure for her problems. The speeches about puzzle-solving being like life itself could be much worse, but the filmmakers can't find a way to make sorting and placing pieces any more dramatic than it sounds.