Judy & Punch

A revenge story from a female perspective has not often been done before. And most certainly not in such a unique way as this Australian film.

Director Mirrah Foulkes’ (first feature film) film had its premiere at Sundance and now will enjoy today’s version of a wide release.

I am sure that the opinions of the film will vary as it uses rather unique methods to tell its tale, but it is a film which will most certainly please those who are open to its style. Yes, it might seem like the film is making light of abuse – in this instance domestic abuse – but it is actually taking on that whole dubious side of the Punch and Judy tale and sprinkling it liberally with an original viewpoint.

Borrowing heavily from the odd and twisted story telling stylings of the British comedic troupe Monty Python, the violence here is rather purposely over the top. Even the spousal abuse portion and most definitely the revenge part. Despite the time inappropriateness, combat scenes which involve kung-fu and gladiator style fighting are to be found here.

Our tale take place in the small town of Seaside, which is explained to be no where near the sea. There lives a husband and wife team of puppeteers, who put on bawdy shows for the public. Punch (Damon Herriman – from television’s Justified) and Judy (Mia Wasikowska – Alice in Wonderland, Crimson Peak) seem like a happily married couple, but there is definitely a darkness to be found.

Mostly because Punch is a drunk. Though he claims to want to be the best puppeteer who ever lived, that is never really going to happen with all the drinking he does. As such, he does not see his wife as his equal in talent so never really listens to her ideas or advice. Sad, as his wife is actually the better puppeteerer.

Though she knows her husband to be a drunk, Judy stays as that is what women did in those days. One day while she is off and Punch is supposed to be watching their child a tragedy happens. A tragedy which he compounds and decides to cover up by killing his wife.

Only she is not really dead and has been nursed back to health by people from a village who have found her in the woods. Now it is time for Judy to take charge and seek the revenge which is required.

To call the comedy found here twisted or dark would be an understatement. That is the beauty and strength of the film. Though praise has to also be heaped upon the ready, willing and able cast. Wasikowska once again proves to be an actress who despite her seeming frailness can carry a strong character when need be. She has made a career so far out of bringing to life left of centre characters. In Foulkes she has found a director who relishes the strange and delightful as well. Also more than up to the task is her co-star Herriman, whose Punch is unwarrentedly full of himself and ridiculous, as is required by this tale. The two do so well they almost make you believe in the reality of Judy and Punch.

Though it does seem like a film which advocates for female strength there are several moments which had me doubting that. Judy does seek revenge upon the man who has done her wrong, but out of the other side of her mouth thinks it is better for women to run from the patriarchy rather than to stand firm and smash it.

Despite some stumblings like that the film is still highly watchable. Mostly because director Foulkes embraces the weirdness and is skillful enough to keep it somewhat under her purview. Judy & Punch often has a million little and not so little things going on at once giving it an almost carnival like feel, yet Foulkes manages to keep all the spinning plates up in the air. It is a film in which almost anything can happen and you don’t think twice about it.

Though at its centre the film does have puppets and a puppet show, this is most certainly not a film for young people. It is filled with lust, language and violence.

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