Judy & Punch : ‘MAMI’ Review – An old fashioned fairytale marred by a tone-deaf narrative
Judy & Punch Movie Review: Australian cinema has seen a polar opposite awakening in recent years. The stories have readily become bleaker with the advent of cinematic voices getting a proper share. However, with this advent, the stories have also become more and more self-indulgent and distraught. Mirrah Foulkes’ ‘Judy & Punch’ is a live-action example of this tragedy. Seen as a black comedic reinterpretation of the 16th-century puppet show, the debut film by Foulkes is an exercise in excess. Excess to an extent where the tone – which is a strange mix of slapstick comedy and feminist aggression goes completely haywire.
Set in the drunken, anarchic town called Seaside the drama sets off with a visually enchanting look into the Punch and Judy puppet show. A distressing, weirdly aggressive two-person performance where Professor Punch (Damon Herriman) beats the shit out of his on-stage puppet counterpart. His excessiveness is considered wild and entertaining as the crowd goes berserk sipping to bucket-load of alcohol. The real star of the Punch and Judy show is, however, Judy (Mia Wasikowska) – Mr. Punch’s wife. She is actually the one who gets all the ideas and keeps things together. She even keeps in check the unlawfully deranged drinking of her husband.
This is until one fine day the male ego deflates and things end up being against Judy’s choice of keeping them together. Mirrah Foulkes makes sure that we are clued into the sense of Seaside too. Apart from the puppet show the town is so full of itself that women who don’t follow norms are considered as rebels. Stones are thrown at them and there’s no way any woman can have a say against it. Judy – who finds her life turned upside down one day stumbles onto a group of women living on their own terms. This is an interesting bit of counter-point that Foulkes makes in her tale. It is important for Judy to understand her own stand before getting her deserved place. The film hence becomes a feminist parable about revenging and avenging the wrong.
The entire scenario is, however, played out for laughs. And trust me when I say this – the film never understands when it wants to be funny and when it needs to bring in the guns blazing on its feminist core. There are no characters that are fleshed out in a way that you feel anything for them. In spite of an earnest performance by the formidable Mia Wasikowska, Judy & Punch doesn’t necessarily know how to deal with its messaging. It tries to condemn male violence with a contrasting revenge tale that falls knee-deep into a narrative too disjointed to make sense.
The entire arc of Judy having to deal with bleaker scenarios before actually getting a chance to have her say is just an exceedingly unnecessary choice from the director’s end. Making Judy & Punch feel like a half-baked, indecisive and sordid affair that loses itself in its own myth-making and myth-breaking.