If you’re like us, a thousand jumbled jigsaw pieces would be cause to beat your head against whatever table holds that maddening little mess. For Kelly Macdonald’s mousy housewife in “Puzzle,” it’s not only a readily managed challenge, but also her ticket to self-awakening and forever-deferred personal fulfillment.
The indie drama’s aptly metaphorical goings-on have real warmth, and get an added boost from charming performances by Macdonald and Irrfan Khan (“Life of Pi”) as her impishly soulful puzzle-solving partner. Still, producer-turned-director Marc Turtletaub (“Loving”) would deliver a more fully realized character study if the film, adapted from the 2009 Argentine import “Rompecabezas,” didn’t lapse into melancholy caricature so often. Macdonald’s anachronistic home life isn’t quite enough to prompt further head-beating, but it’s a distraction from some nicely turned yearning and heartache.
It seems we’ve time-traveled back several decades when we first meet Agnes (MacDonald), between her name and her fashion-backward ’40s-style party dress. Then there’s the dutiful way she caters to Louie (David Denman, “The Office”), her well-meaning but lunkheaded auto-mechanic husband. You’d hardly know that the birthday celebration keeping her hopping is, in fact, her own.
During a moment of post-party quiet, Agnes decides on a whim to try out the daunting jigsaw puzzle someone gave her — and to her surprise, she discovers that she’s got a pretty phenomenal knack. Hungry for more, she takes the big, bold step of hopping a commuter train to a Manhattan specialty shop, where she catches a tantalizing glimpse of puzzle culture — and a flier from one wiz seeking a competition partner. (True to scripted form, out-of-touch Agnes would never think to try searching online. Or, you know, in the toy aisle at Target.)
Enter handbill poster Robert (Khan), an inventor whiling away his days in the luxe brownstone that a lucky patent bought. Whimsically inquisitive and also just a little sad, he senses a kindred spirit in Agnes, one even more enigmatic than his own. He’s keen to open up her sheltered world, and she’s in a place where there’s endearingly understandable motivation to take him up on it — like Macdonald’s “Boardwalk Empire” sympathy case drawn down a somewhat less dicey life path.
The drama this stirs up back home in the ’burbs with Louie and the couple’s two sons (Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams) is again the stuff of time capsules, leaving us as anxious as Agnes for her next getaway. Why can’t the film maintain its subtler shadings throughout? It’s a puzzle.
Directed by Marc Turtletaub. Written by Owen Moverman and Polly Mann. Starring Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman. Boston Common, Kendall Square, West Newton. 102 minutes. R (language).Tom Russo can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.