This is how it begins. Agnes, (Kelly Macdonald) a woman of 2017, so plain she could be the daughter of a quaker minister, is discovered moving a vacuum cleaner around the dining room floor.

Each night at six, the meat, potatoes and vegetable du jour are set on the table for her middle-class working family, husband Louie (David Denman “The Replacements”) who runs a successful auto body shop, sons Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams).

It’s Lent in the neighborhood, and Agnes, a devout Catholic, good wife and mother seems to go through her daily life with flour on her hands, and Lent’s ashes on her pale forehead.

This day in the kitchen, Agnes is preparing a meal celebrating her birthday.

Quietly she arranges pots and pans, hangs out a “Happy Birthday” banner, and bakes her own cake. Later that evening, with the dining room full of guests, she lights the candles on the big chocolate cake in the kitchen and brings it in herself, as the guests sing and applaud.

All this, as if she were doing it for someone else. Agnes.


This year among her gifts, there are two special ones. The boys give her a new iPhone.

The other is a 1,000-piece picture puzzle. Pay attention. These keys, provided by director Marc Turtletaub with writers Polly Mann and Oren Moverman, will unlock a new Agnes and start a journey. Not like a bolt of lighting, but more like a stream of water filling a vase.

The other gift this day is a simple boxed 1,000-piece picture puzzle of the North American continent. She looks at the picture, points to a spot and says, “Montreal.” That will come up again.

When she is alone, she pours the pieces out on the polished dining room table. This is where the puzzle called Agnes begins to form.

Before the family comes home, Agnes has amazingly, almost supernaturally, put it all together.

Here, we see that our Agnes, a simple high school graduate, the child of immigrants, who took care of her father before marrying, may well be the “Rain Man” of picture puzzling.


Delighted with her creation and seemingly unimpressed with the speed of her hands, she goes to a shop in town and purchases two more, larger, more complicated pieces.

While at the shop, she sees a notice about a puzzle contest ad; the clerk gives her the number of another puzzler who requires a partner for a big two-party contestant game. Intrigued, she calls the number in Manhattan.

Enter Robert (Irrfan Khan “Slumdog Millionaire” “The Lunchbox”) a brilliant, divorced Middle Eastern immigrant tech designer, who lives opulently on wealth from one of his patented devices, and enjoys the diversion of puzzling.

Robert, bored with his tech life, yearns to compete and win the big contest that finishes up in Brussels.

Surprised and awed by Agnes’s speed and dexterity, and emotionally sparked to life by Agnes’ simplicity, Robert’s long buried romantic spirit blooms, and as each piece of their shared puzzle slips into place, the pieces missing from their lives appear, and a picture that shocks them both takes form.

The contest looms ahead, but passes quickly. This is no “Silver Linings Playbook” with preparation and a flash bang happy ending that hands them a cup. Mann and Moverman’s script, based on the film “Rompecabezas” by Natalia Smirnoff, is too well crafted for such a Hollywood finale.


And Turtletaub’s direction too finely honed, too honestly delivered to betray the souls involved.

Khan’s portrayal of a brilliant, sensitive soul broken by “the randomness of everything,” is delivered with a calming and smoky charm. He’s absolutely marvelous. You’ll wait impatiently for his next film.

What is there to say about the haunting softness of Macdonald? From “No Country for Old Men” to her dazzling role in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” she has given us one pleasure after another.

But here, like a prairie maiden standing in autumn light, with the charismatic dark and smoky Khan, a coffee and cream romance is promised. Delivered? All in love and life is random. Is it not?

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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