In the town of Seaside (which is nowhere near the sea), puppeteers Professor Punch (as played by Damon Herriman) and his wife Judy (as played by Mia Wasikowska) put on the show of their lives. Coarse, bawdy and unremittingly violent, their show, however, pivots on domestic violence. When he’s not battering policemen, crocodiles or anybody else that he finds upon his way, Punch enjoys nothing more than battering the puppet of his wife, Judy.
When afterwards Judy confronts him about this, Punch flat-out refuses to tone down the violence. Drunk on self-belief, Punch, however, crashes to earth, when through an act of criminal neglect, he kills their baby. Confronted by an enraged Judy, puppetry becomes reality whereupon Punch kills Judy as they fight. Fearful of what it might mean for his burgeoning career, Punch buries her in the woods and blames his servants for “cooking and eating their child”… And yet, even for such a slippery customer as Mr Punch, there are some crimes are far too heinous for fate to let go unpunished…
...Judy & Punch pulls all the right strings albeit a bit slackly.
In this modern updating and dramatically fleshed-out version of a long-established seaside puppet show, director Mirrah Foulkes‘s movie clearly has its sights set on righting some wrongs. Taking on, a what ostensibly is a children’s show that reinforces domestic abuse, Judy & Punch is an intentionally dark comedy and yet carving out a line between its comedy and dramatic subplot is the dog pulling at the tapestry it would like to deconstruct.
Surrounded by a series of comically, distorted exaggerations, none more so than by Tom Budge‘s Mr Frankly, who is always on the lookout for the next innocent witch to stone, the movie’s most charming performance belongs to Terry Norris as Scaramouche. Too old and senile to dance the fandango, his Scaramouche is a moist-eyed, well-intentioned soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Almost a mirror image for how Damon Herriman‘s Punch could have been his Pythonesque befuddlement is the heart and soul of the film.
Leaving the real sparks to fly between Damon Herriman and Mia Wasikowska warring couple, it is Wasikowska who earnestly carries your attention throughout. Caught between balancing Punch’s roguish appeal and heinous crimes, Damon Herriman’s Punch fall between floorboards of mixed genres. Not willow-the-whisp-ish enough to make you fall in love with him, nor as dark as he needed to be, the failure of this balancing act is actually the script’s to shoulder.
Add to this Gillian Jones‘s arresting-if-perplexing shift in regional accents from sentence to sentence and you discover that most of the cast have settled on mumble-set accents which dance between the Scottish Highlands and rural Dorset.
Unable to shoulder the blame for his crimes and intent on blaming everybody else (-sound like anybody you know?) Punch’s cinematic arrival on streaming is actually quite timely, given the US elections and everything. Set inside a location where the townsfolk are bound together by fear and knee-jerk prejudices, this could have been a darkly comic mirror of our times.
A fairy tale updated with modern sensibilities, and far less saccharine than Maleficent et al, Judy & Punch pulls all the right strings albeit a bit slackly. That said, give it a go and see if that’s the way to do it.