Judy & Punch

At the Movies Blog
A puppet show that comes to life for a couple.

Mia Wasikowska plays Judy, who takes lots of punches.

When I saw there was a movie titled Judy & Punch, I immediately thought of an actress I dig — Lucy Punch. She first came to my attention in the underrated Woody Allen movie You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

I wondered why I hadn’t seen her in a movie in a long time (well, aside from the small role as a Sylvia Plath poster in How to Build a Girl). Unfortunately, Lucy was only a producer on this. Another producer on this film, Nash Edgerton, is one of the hidden talents in the business. His movie The Square (2008) is amazing, and Gringo was criminally underrated. His show Mr. Inbetween is great. Hiis short “Spider” I still play for people all the time. So I was thrilled these two were producing a movie based on the old Punch and Judy puppet shows that started in the 16th century. In this movie, the story takes place around that time in England, in a town called Seaside. It seems like the most popular activities there are drinking and visiting brothels. 

When Professor Punch (Damon Herriman) and wife Judy (Mia Wasikowska) put on one of their weekly shows, it goes well. Backstage though, Judy has some reservations about the shows getting a bit too “punchy.” His puppet basically beats her puppet up with a stick, to the amusement of the cheering crowd. She’s also a bit peeved by the flask he has, as he promised to lay off the booze. It’s interesting that as we see Judy doing shadow puppets on the wall for their baby, and doing magic tricks for the local kids in town — we realize she’s perhaps the real talent behind this duo. 

Early on, we watch as the town of Seaside stones three women for being witches. When we hear the reasons why they’ve been convicted (one of them stared at the moon, another had a rash on her back — the mark of the devil)…you realize what mentality we’re dealing with regard to how women are treated. When we watch Judy get beaten to a pulp by Punch in their real life, after she’s upset by his lack of care for the baby…my wife and I both were wondering how this is even entertaining. We felt the same way watching the critically acclaimed Nightingale a few years. In that movie, a woman was raped on three occasions, and during one of those attacks, a man watching kills her baby. It’s all so gross. In this, it’s not quite as brutal, but the scenes also go for comedy, so it gives off the vibe of a bad Monty Python vehicle.

This is the first film for writer/director Mirrah Foulkes, and she’s rather self-indulgent and heavy-handed. All the excess of what is thrown at us just makes this thing go off the rails.

A better approach would have been to flesh out a few of the characters more, and not play some of the darker scenarios for laughs. 

The pacing was uneven, and the score was annoying. I’m also not sure why they threw in a Leonard Cohen song. It reminded me of the bizarre way Quentin Tarantino used a Jim Croce song in Django Unchained. The tunes just don’t fit with the time period. Oh, and speaking of Tarantino, Australian actor Damon Herriman, whose performance as Punch is actually good — is the one who played Charles Manson in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood (he also played Manson in Mindhunter).

Australian actress Mia Wasikowska was wonderful in one of my favorite movies of 2010 — The Kids Are All Right. She’s since starred in Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, and lots of other films. She’s fine in this, but again, a few strong performances just don’t make up for a weak script.

Now, I did enjoy how the film ended, and it was all an interesting idea for a movie — how real life mirrors the puppet show. Perhaps Foulkes will nail it with her second picture.

1 ½ stars out of 5.

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