Sometimes you just have to make things right…
While Judy & Punch suffers from some very uneven pacing it makes up that with some lively performances and the eternal message to never cross a woman scorned.
In the anarchic town of Seaside, nowhere near the sea, puppeteers Judy and Punch are trying to resurrect their marionette show. The show is a hit due to Judy’s superior puppeteering, but Punch’s driving ambition and penchant for whisky lead to an inevitable tragedy that Judy must avenge.
As far as debut features from actors turned writer/directors go this is actually pretty darn good as Mirrah Foulkes gives a yarn that has feminist bent to it but it never over takes the actual entertainment value of the narrative it is trying to present.
Mirrah Foulkes (who is married to noted director David Michod) really does imbue this material with a very distinct sense of style. It’s visually stunning and it all has some genuine irreverency to it all, trying to play the extremes, even the uncomfortable ones to the absolute hilt as its overall grim yet somewhat kooky demeanour kind of adds to its overall charm. It could have used a little trimming in sections to be sure to make for something that just played a little tighter, but you’ve got to enjoy the unabashed courage it takes to try and say something serious, grim and silly all at the same time in a movie with a musical score that was on point and cinematography that elevated a first time director into looking like a hardened pro. This could have easily been a bit of a mess, but it manages to soar thanks to actors who knew exactly what the material needed.
Mia Wasikowska’s Judy is a fun and engaging ride down the standard revenge thriller alley. As Foukles spins somewhat of a revisionist bent on the classic “Punch & Judy” story, Wasikowska is the film’s anchor. She plays it fairly straight so we can appreciate the journey serving as straight woman to anchor down Damon Herriman’s gloriously unhinged and pathetically sinister Punch. Sadly there isn’t a ton of character development outside our two leads but they each make it fun to watch as Wasikowska again proves she can carry a feature and Herriman announces to the world that he’s just too good and needs to be working on a much grander stage then this.
All in all, Judy & Punch is the kind of debut feature that doesn’t necessarily knock it out of the park as it tries to be forward thinking and expressive in giving us a female driven revenge thriller while trying to embrace a little grindhouse gonzo at the same time, but gives you a lot of hope for what the future might bring with Mirrah Foulkes as a writer/director. It’s pretty fun, but tries to exist in too many worlds and make too many people happy to be something genuinely epic and memorable. With a little bit more self editing Foulkes could very well be a storyteller to watch going forward.