The most striking element of Mirrah Foulkes’ feminist reimaging of the quintessential, quaint British seaside entertainment – this time focusing on the humans behind the puppets – is its unevenness of tone. Judy & Punch starts strong in its first half hour: audiences are introduced to the titular traveling puppeteers (Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman), and it is clear that the latter’s drinking and temper are going to spell trouble as the former holds the show together with superior skill and consummate professionalism.
That trouble erupts early on, but unfortunately the film never hits the same comedic and/or dramatic heights – despite strong performances from the cast and an electrifying, eclectic score – after the plot moves on from these initial shocks. The fact that the film cannot decide how funny or dark these events should be played is a problem; this is not a subtle piece, and its over-the-top happenings often come across as either too serious or too hilarious depending on the moments directly preceding or following them.
Additionally, very little character development comes through; Wasikowska’s Judy is a beacon of morality and self-assurance even before the tragedy kicks into high gear, and Herriman’s Punch never meaningfully changes or challenges his ways. It is also disappointing that Judy is rather reactive until the climactic scene; Punch and his toxic masculinity get more attention and plot action. In more assured hands, this could be a statement on oppression and female rebellion, but subversion is surface level only and the resolution feels all too easily won.
Despite an intriguing premise and a fantastical, colourful revisioning of the early modern English countryside, Judy & Punch fails to explore its ideas or characters meaningfully. Whether due to its uneven tone or lack of engagement with its character motivations, there is little emotionally resonant in the piece.
CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie
DIRECTOR: Mirrah Foulkes
WRITER: Mirrah Foulkes
SYNOPSIS: Puppeteers Judy and Punch are trying to resurrect their marionette show, but Punch’s drinking and inability to accept Judy’s superior skills lead to tragedy.