By Leah Greenblatt
July 26, 2018 at 04:55 PM EDT
Linda Kallerus/Sony Pictures Classics

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is the kind of woman who seems invisible even at her own birthday party, fetching oblivious guests’ drinks with downcast eyes and sweeping up smashed dishes in a drab little dress with a leafy pattern best described as “sad houseplants.”

She’s a sad houseplant, a sort of unpaid stay-at-home maid for her gruff husband, Louie (Logan Lucky’s David Denman), and two teenage sons (Austin Abrams and Bubba Weiler), filling her days with lonely grocery runs and the ladies’ church league. But a pair of birthday presents — the only ones she’s been given, apparently— promise to change that: an iPhone and a 1,000-piece puzzle.

The first she has no interest in, at least initially. The second she finds herself surprisingly good at and increasingly drawn to — more than she has been to anything in years, or maybe ever. Her new obsession leads her to a specialty store in big, noisy New York City, and an ad by an anonymous puzzle master looking for a partner. (Enter iPhone and Bollywood superstar Irrfan Khan.)

The movie’s modestly scaled, slow-paced story line, based on the award-winning 2010 Argentinean breakout Rompecabezas, doesn’t explore anything particularly new in domestic drama, or in a tentative romance with Khan’s wealthy, idiosyncratic Robert.

But director Marc Turtletaub pulls thoughtful, carefully shaded performances from Denman, Khan, and, most of all, Scottish actress Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire, No Country for Old Men), who refuses to let Agnes be an easy avatar for midlife longing and suburban discontent. With her fierce, strange energy at the center, the film builds quietly toward its own small revelations, piece by piece. B+