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Film Review

Judy & Punch

Directed by Mirrah Foulkes
From: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Released: 06.05.20
Review by Julian Lytle | June 4, 2020 at 5:00 PM

Basically: A classic puppet show turned on its head to make the story about the humans who control them.

I didn’t know what to expect from Judy & Punch. I was thinking: Is this a movie about the puppets or some quirky comedy about the origin of a silly little puppet show? Then I started wondering: How many people even know about the Punch and Judy puppet show ? Like, do they even still do performances for kids? Maybe it’s a good thing Punch and Judy is no longer around because it lets you come into director Mirrah Foulkes’ film with names you know but aren’t so connected to. 

In a town called Seaside, Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman) are a couple who are trying to bring back their marionette show to the locals. Punch hopes to bring attention to himself so he can get out of this sleepy town and become a star in theater. While he’s creative, charming, and ambitious, it’s the meticulous and amazing puppetry skills of Judy that bring the show together. However, things soon go left as Punch’s vices (and his lack of control over them) lead to some terrible actions that take this movie into places you wouldn’t expect.

Photo: Ben King © Seaside Productions Pty Ltd.

What got me with Judy & Punch is its message. I didn’t expect a feminist story but was so happily surprised. There are some shocking scenes of violence and the film does very well to tie this period piece into conversations going on today. While Judy & Punch starts off like a quirky comedy, it quickly shifts into themes of toxic masculinity and how a fragile male ego can feed into violence. Mia Wasikowska is really good as Judy’s arc shifts into a story of revenge. You feel for her as she does her best to be a supportive wife even though she’s the talent in the partnership. 

Punch and most of the men, however, use their power and influence to control the whole town. He is a charismatic yet deplorable man. Damon Herriman plays him so well—you’ll like Punch initially but throughout the film you’ll learn to hate him so much for his actions. The way Herriman contorts his face reminds one of the fun times of Johnny Depp’s performances in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Photo: Ben King © Seaside Productions Pty Ltd.

After a violent incident, Judy ends up on the outskirts, in the woods that are mostly populated by a nomadic matriarchal group. This part of the story is what makes Judy & Punch interesting and adds depth. How the film uses the framework of a Punch and Judy show makes for a well-realized story. The movie also does a great job of tying in “witch hunts”, “he said she said” stories, and members of society who are deemed “unwanted,” to make some solid commentary.

I have to say Judy & Punch hits differently with what is going on in the world at the moment. It feels like Judy’s seething anger represents a lot of people dealing with society’s structures right now. This is some good art y’all—it’s on the nose but sometimes things need to be on the nose. 

In The End: A period piece about a wife taking her power back from a less talented and shallow little husband centered around puppets…
who knew!

Judy & Punch comes to streaming services tomorrow.

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