The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - JUDY & PUNCH | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - JUDY & PUNCH

judy & punch review
In the anarchic town of Seaside (nowhere near the sea), tragedy strikes puppeteers Judy and Punch when they attempt to resurrect their marionette show.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Mirrah Foulkes

Starring: Mia Wasikowsika, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardy, Virginia Gay, Terry Norris

judy & punch dvd

I’ve never had a particularly special reverence for Punch and Judy, a staple in British culture for centuries, but, if I show my own children the puppet show, I won't look at it the same way as I first saw it after watching Mirrah Foulkes' creative but uneven Judy & Punch.

Taking place in a fictional town called Seaside (actually in the countryside), married-with-child couple Judy (Mia Wasikowsika, strong) and Punch (Damon Herriman, reliably playing the unsympathetic) run the greatest marionette show around. At least, it’s the greatest commercially speaking, as it attracts all the denizens of the area, whereas, artistically, it’s highly questionable.

judy & punch review

The demented shenanigans of the puppets, wordlessly beating each other up, is a gleeful source or entertainment for a close-minded town that believes in sorcery and capital punishment. I'm not sure if even the staunchest supporters of Sharia law have enforced an entire day dedicated to lapidation, whereas the locals here dance for "Happy Stoning Day!"

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Foulkes takes the slapstick performance of the fighting puppets and recontextualises it in a sinister context by scrutinising the relationship between its creators, showing Punch to be a drunken, good-for-nothing husband who cares more about entertaining the locals than looking after his own family. Contrasting him is Judy, who has to run all the household errands and slap Punch into soberness whenever they’re not on a stage.

judy & punch review

The filmmaker, who makes her feature debut here following some quirky, sardonic shorts, excels at building the world of Seaside but is less successful at establishing a strong core narrative to keep us immersed in her imagination. The deteriorating love between the central couple is a wheel-spinning activity until something goes terribly, terribly wrong. This happens a third of the way through, whereupon the plot expands to explore new characters, including a dorky police constable and a mystical community of women living outside the town, who partake to find out how things went very, very south.

It's a gasp-inducing turn of events that leaves the baby and wife for dead, familiar to anyone who knows the puppet show and how it comically depicts these proceedings. In live action, though, it’s shocking more than it is chucklesome. The narrative momentum plateaus around this point, as the rest of the film becomes easy to telegraph ahead of time once Foulkes makes it clear that her reinterpretation of the play is as a feminist revenge thriller. Our ability to predict what happens next undoes all the tension for the hour that remains.

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Similar to Tim Burton’s Big Eyes and Keira Knightley starrer Colette, this is a tale of egotistical males who take credit for all their work in a domestic partnership. It's about the spousal abuse and negligible parenthood that arises from such a circumstance. It's about women standing up for themselves, as broadly sketched in Judy's arc. These themes are all well and good but have been executed before in better films - beyond the initial examples, I’m sure you were thinking of a handful while reading this paragraph.

judy & punch review

For better or worse, Judy & Punch is a perfect movie for Sundance - where it had its world premiere - with its idiosyncratic vision, only possible to have been realised by giving its auteur full creative reign. As a period piece, it's inventive and anachronistic; some of the cooler features include a soundtrack that hops around history - a melancholic montage is scored by Leonard Cohen’s 'Who by Fire', the ultimate folk record for a sombre mood - and the remixing of the word ‘scouts’, utilised for a brilliant lampooning of theatre critics.

What was most entertaining for me is the conceptual humour generated by Foulkes' commitment to her world. Like its Park City-bowing brethren, The Death of Dick Long, much of what is funny is created by distorting the norms of our existing world just a little - I was tickled by the genuinely incomprehensible Scottish accents and weird snakes. There are uniquely odd delights in between the familiar scenes of sorcery and sordidness. I just wish there more.

Judy & Punch is on Netflix UK now.