Puzzle [9/10]

An exquisite, understated gem that speaks to the ongoing oppression of women, “Puzzle” tells of a loyal, hardworking wife of a car mechanic in a whitebread burb of America, who accidentally discovers she is a whiz at crossword puzzles. Seeking to pursue this revelatory interest, she finds herself partnering a sophisticated New York puzzle competitor, and vying in competitions, even as her newfound individuality rams up against the small-mindedness of her town and family. Kelly Macdonald is flawless in the key role, the late Irrfan Khan plays the New Yorker with wonderful individuality and assuredness, and the supporting actors are all strong. The narrative evolves softly, with few huge climaxes, but the net effect is powerful, and I saw the film as both a cry for our heroine’s freedom but also as an existential examination of meaning. One scene, in which the small-town intruder asks the intellectual why he puzzles, was especially profound. Overall, Puzzle fizzes with deep, lustrous energy.

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