Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Judy & Punch

Damon Herriman and Mia Wasikowska in Judy & Punch
Damon Herriman and Mia Wasikowska in Judy & Punch

The debut feature from Australian writer/director Mirrah Foulkes is a lush-looking drama with more than a touch of crackpot visionary oddness that nevertheless begins to implode into the second half.

Seemingly set in 17th century England, although it was actually (and sometimes obviously) filmed in Montsalvat, Eltham, in rural Victoria, and the story isn’t meant to be tied to a particular time and place, this finds celebrated puppeteer Punch (Damon Herriman) entertaining the town of Seaside’s adoring populace with shows alongside his equally gifted wife Judy (Mia Wasikowska). Judy is depicted as growing increasingly tired of Punch’s ego, lies, alcoholism and cruelty, and we wait for her to rightly turn against him, but she doesn’t get the chance after one of his drunken mornings ends in a disaster that should make most punters cringe. Even if there’s an ill-advised suggestion, at first, that it’s meant to be funny.

What happens next is hard to discuss without spoiling the plot, but the many twists allow Mia and Adelaide boy Damon (fresh from pulling double duty as Charles Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and Netflix’s Mindhunter) to mostly shine, even if her big speeches fall somewhat flat and he’s quite the ugly and monstrous fool. In fact, string-puller Foulkes’ direction of the players (who, like the crew, are each deliberately credited with ‘Ms.’ and ‘Mr.’) is altogether expert, and she’s surely helped by the fact that she has a considerable background in acting herself, and can notably be spotted in her husband David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, and television dramas Top Of The Lake and The Crown.

Making some tough feminist points and building to much heavy-duty #MeToo messaging, Foulkes’ film is worth persevering with despite its problems, and yet it’s hard not to ponder what the audience would be for such a willfully eccentric, non-star-studded and yes, Australian-made epic these days.

Still, the cast are uniformly strong, and there aren’t many movies that can dare to (or afford to) be this elaborately peculiar – although that only makes its final act and pay-off even more frustrating.

Reviewer Rating

Judy & Punch (MA) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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