Perhaps it’s appropriate that Puzzle is directed by Marc Turtletaub, who didn’t find his calling as a filmmaker until later in life.
Turtletaub is a former journalist who spent decades in the business world yet always harbored a passion for film. It wasn’t until recently that he finally was able to pursue his creative outlet.
In some ways, the same can be said of the film’s lead character, Agnes, a middle-aged suburban mother who uses a passion for jigsaw puzzles as a method of finding purpose in her life.
“It’s really not a movie about puzzles. There are puzzles all over it, but it’s really a movie about people,” Turtletaub said during the recent Dallas International Film Festival. “It’s about a 40-year-old woman coming-of-age. The puzzles just lead her to finding her true voice.”
The small-scale drama begins with Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) in a domestic rut, consistently neglecting her own interests for the benefit of her husband (David Denman) and two sons. When she pursues her hobby and enters a puzzle contest, she meets a fellow enthusiast (Irrfan Khan) who changes her outlook.
“It’s not about the big competition. We made all the puzzle stuff secondary. It’s about her and her relationships,” Turtletaub said. “She finds she has a unique skill and winds up following that string. Her world opens up in ways we never expect.”
Turtletaub, 72, spent decades as an executive at The Money Store, a home-equity lending firm founded by his father. He was the CEO when the company was sold in the late 1990s, after which he formed a film production company with business partner Peter Saraf. Their big break came about a decade ago.
“Little by little, I started to know people in the business,” he said. “I was reading about 150 screenplays a year. It took me two years and I read Little Miss Sunshine. I wrote on it, ‘This is the one.’”
Five years later, following multiple rewrites and some behind-the-scenes studio wrangling, Turtletaub financed much of the Oscar-winning 2008 movie himself. Since then, he and Saraf have been behind such prominent projects as Away We Go and Loving, and have a stake in You Are My Friend, the Mr. Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks that’s due out next year.
He’s only recently dabbled in directing, and became attached to Puzzle after a friend sent him the screenplay, co-written by Oren Moverman (The Messenger), which is based on a 2010 movie from Argentina. It’s his most ambitious project to date behind the camera.
Turtletaub said the film isn’t an attempt to capitalize on the current landscape of gender politics in Hollywood or the rise in movies about empowered women. Rather, he simply wants to tell a character-driven story without an agenda.
“We didn’t sit there and think we needed to make a female-centered movie at this point in time,” Turtletaub said. “We just found this incredible script. I love movies about people who are finding out who they are or maybe finding their purpose in the world. It kind of checked all those boxes for me.”