Monday, January 29, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Puzzle

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub

Main characters in a film usually start out one of two days: either they’re really living, or they’re letting life happen to them. Those who fall into the latter category may be perfectly happy doing what they’re doing, but it’s all in service of what they believe their place in life to be, devoid of any investment in their own fulfillment and achievement of something greater. If they begin in such a position, it’s unlikely that they’ll stay that way throughout the film, due to the arrival of an unexpected discovery or force that propels them, at least temporarily, on a new path.

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is first seen keeping mostly to herself and bringing out a birthday cake to a group of partygoers – who it turns out are there to celebrate her own birthday. The Connecticut housewife lives to please her two sons and the husband (David Denman) who fails to recognize just how much he leans on her and refuses to consider that she might want to do anything on her own. When she quickly assembles a puzzle given to her as a birthday present, she realizes she has a knack for something and begins working with an egotistical professional puzzler, Robert (Irrfan Khan), in New York City who opens her eyes to some of what she’s been missing with her head down at home in the suburbs.

This is not a grand film about the world’s greatest puzzling champion who broke world records and achieved fame. Instead, it’s a quieter, humorous story about a woman who happens to be good at a hobby that she never thought much about and begins to work up the courage to stand up for herself and her independence as a result. Her meetings with Robert begin with puzzling techniques but go much deeper, allowing her to be listened to by someone for the first time in her life. That transformation is worthwhile in itself, and serves as the anchor of an otherwise decent if not entirely memorable film.

Kelly Macdonald, David Denman, and Irrfan Khan discuss the film

Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald, best known for her role on “Boardwalk Empire,” doesn’t usually get the lead part, and, as director Marc Turtletaub pointed out, is particularly refreshing as an over-forty actress given the full spotlight in this film. She delivers a wonderful, endearing performance, complemented nicely by Khan, who’s clearly having fun, and Denman, who plays dull and despicable very well. This film is fun and light, and though it doesn’t manage to achieve the dramatic potency it wishes too, it’s likely to put a smile on any viewer’s face.


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