Friday, June 5, 2020

'Punch' comes with a new twist on familiar puppets in unfamiliar times

Wasikowska and Herriman offer no love story for the ages as the title two.
"Judy & Punch," the creative first feature from writer and director Mirrah Foulkes, is not really a biopic about famous puppets, but its ill-paired string pullers certainly do open some curtains into our current times.

Spousal abuse, mob violence, addiction, and revenge all play key roles in the period mix of drama and extremely dark comedy emerging from the most unexpected places.

Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and her man Punch (Damon Herriman) regularly deliver the theatrical goods to a bawdy group of commoners in fictitious Seaside, England, circa 1660. Many of the onlookers are named after characters from the historically Britcentric "Punch and Judy" shows, and almost all but Constable Derrick (Benedict Hardie) cheer on the "smashy, punchy" elements of the full marionette experience.

Despite her mastery of pulling those aforementioned strings, Judy herself is no big fan of much going on her life, except her lovely infant daughter, whose "disappearance," by the way, is given incredibly curt treatment in an otherwise fine fable.

Of course, the arrogant and mean-spirited Punch's heavy drinking results in him becoming the exceptional villain of the piece, even though Foulkes sprinkles her screenplay with some legitimately funny dialogue. Believe me, at least one observation spoken by an ever-hooded youngster (Daisy Axon) will make you laugh out loud.

The whole shadowy business moves quickly enough toward a brutal ending, which then gives way to its large communal family living happily ever after. Stick around for more legitimate scares, too, when an old piece of footage captures the faces of children watching an actual Punch and Judy puppet performance.

Not rated by the MPAA (but includes bloody violence and some language); 1:46; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

("Judy & Punch," which premiered at Sundance early this year, is now streaming on Amazon, Apple TV and various VOD outlets.)

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