This movie might be set in the present day, but its concepts seem to be of day’s past. Director, Marc Turtletaub’s, second feature opens with our main character, Agnes (Kelly MacDonald) at a birthday party. Going by Agnes’ actions, you’re led to believe that she is hosting this party for someone other than herself. She flits around the room cleaning up after others, tending beverages and ensuring everyone is enjoying themselves. Upon reveal that it is her own party, the mood of the scene changes from happy to heartbreaking. Could life get more depressing than baking your own cake and cleaning up the mess too?
Somehow this story, manages it. Agnes is a forty something year old, unappreciated suburban house wife living in the house she was raised in. With her auto mechanic husband, Louie (David Denam) and two sons, she lives a monotonous routine that does not seem to require her going farther than ten to fifteen minutes from her home. Wake up, wrangle her family, make breakfast, laundry, visit church, buy groceries, cook dinner, clean up, time for bed and repeat. She doesn’t have a lot of time for independent thought because most of her day is spent concerned caring for others.’ Ironically, it is one of the birthday gifts, a jigsaw puzzle, that ends up having a meaningful impact on her life and leads her to make uncharacteristic choices.
A puzzle may seem rudimentary or childish to some, but in watching what the activity provides to Agnes, it’s easy to see it’s more than just a hobby. I must give credit to Kelly MacDonald; she is a wonderful actress and needs to be in more flicks. I adored her in Boardwalk Empire and wondered why I haven’t seen her in more things. She not only manages to convince me of the positive effects working puzzles can have, but also that I may need to start puzzling, too. It makes me recall the evenings spent with my Grandmother, Josie sifting for pieces to fit together in hopes of revealing the cute woodland creatures of the forest. What a sense of accomplishment after it was completed. A feeling you were solely responsible for.
This film is a reminder of how little time we take as a society to focus on a singular activity. Any available moment we have, our eyes seem affixed to a screen, our fingers scrolling. Witnessing how focused Agnes is and the way in which she loses herself while working on the puzzles makes me realize how rare a moment like this would be for so many of us. For this character, she may not be consumed by a cell phone or social media, but it is her family and home life that devour her. This pastime provides her with a moment to experience, for the first time, self-focus and self-care. I find it all too fitting that this character dons vintage inspired clothing and ’50s church going mom mannerisms finds her peace with puzzles. When she is working on the puzzles it is her time to be concerned with herself. It becomes her passion.
Passions can be dangerous though. Agnes’ puzzles cause her to perform actions that end up hurting others. What is interesting about this plot point is that it is all initiated with her use of the technology she first swears off. A single text message leads her to experience a relationship with another fellow avid puzzler that takes her down a road of the unknown. A road to discovering herself.
In watching this film, it not only tells the story of Agnes, but it also speaks about society and the way in which we allow so much noise in our lives. Sometimes it is good to just experience the quiet.