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“Judy & Punch” Puts A Spin On The Puppet Show But Lacks A True North

Have you ever wondered about the old Punch and Judy puppet shows? Probably not, but still, the new film Judy and Punch hopes that you at least have pondered the time period that produced those violent puppet shows. For better or worse (in equal measure, frankly), the movie takes on the vibe of that sort of a show. The result is a flick that has manic moments of inspiration, needless violence, and a lack of a defining characteristic. In getting to the punch (no pun intended) at the admittedly well executed conclusion, too many odd paths are taking. It all just makes for a sometimes interesting mess that falls short of being recommendation worthy.

The movie initially seems to be outlining how the Punch and Judy shows came to be, but it then takes a turn. At the start, we see Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman) operating a puppet show in the small town of Seaside, boldly proclaimed as being nowhere near the sea. Their show is wildly popular for its anarchy and violence, due in large part to Judy’s abilities as a strong puppeteer, but Punch gets all of the credit, being more of a showman. They seem to have a loving relationship, but his alcoholism one day leads to a massive tragedy for the pair. The way he handles that, especially when she’s alerted to it, is where things take a complete new course. It’s better left to be seen, should you see it, but it’s eventually more of a revenge tale than anything else. Mirrah Foulkes writes and directs, with other cast members including Benedict Hardie, to name one. Stefan Duscio handles the cinematography, while the score is by François Tétaz.

For the second time this week, a new film needlessly kills off a dog. That’s not why this one fails, but it’s indicative of the lack of consistency on display here. Sure, there’s a mix of comedy and horror in the central tragedy that spurs the second half revenge, but what follows is the slaughter of a minor canine character that serves no purpose. We learn that one of the characters is far eviler than expected, sure, but the prior scene had already established that. It’s a choice on the part of filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes that completely rubbed me the wrong way, making the rest of the flick an uphill battle.

Judy and Punch does feature an interesting, if inconsistent, performance from Damon Herriman as Punch, though it’s Mia Wasikowska and her work as Judy that almost saves the day. Foulkes is equally interested in both characters, and that’s a mistake, since Herriman gets to go big with his turn, but Wasikowska actually gets to invest you a little bit in hers. With more of a focus on her, this already feminist spin on Punch and Judy shows might have had a better chance at ultimately succeeding. The idea here is solid, to be sure, it’s just not executed in a manner that generates any real enthusiasm.

Today, anyone who happens to be interested in the origins of the Punch and Judy shows, as well as a showcase for Mia Wasikowska, has an option to consider in Judy and Punch. It’s too messy and too much of a mixed bag to get my thumbs up, but it’s at least something to ponder giving a shot to, provided the issues I had are not ones you have. If nothing else, Mirrah Foulkes’ next film should be one to keep an eye out for. This movie did not work, but here follow up very well might be a hit. Here’s hoping…

Judy and Punch is available to watch now.

(Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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