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Damon Herriman, left, and Mia Wasikowska star in Judy & Punch.

Vice Media

  • Judy & Punch
  • Written and directed by Mirrah Foulkes
  • Starring Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman and Benedict Hardie
  • Classification 14A; 105 minutes

rating

2 out of 4 stars

An uneasy squish of good intentions and confused execution, Judy & Punch makes for some of the most whiplash-inducing viewing of this already uneasy year. Part revisionist history and part deeply grim fairy tale, writer-director Mirrah Foulkes’s feature debut wants to be as clever as it is fiendish, as funny as it is dark, and as progressive as it is exploitative – but such goals collide instead of coalesce.

Monthly streaming guide: Reviews of new films and TV shows on Amazon Prime Video, CBC Gem, Crave, Netflix and on-demand

Set in something looking like a 19th-century English town, but awash in Irish and Australian accents and the odd line of 21st-century slang, the film follows two practitioners of the puppet-theatre form known as a Punch and Judy Show, infamous for its oft-brutal depictions of violence, especially against women. Here, the master of the marionettes is Punch (Damon Herriman, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood’s Charlie Manson), a drunk who has ensnared the far more talented Judy (Mia Wasikowska) into a loveless marriage and a flat creative partnership. After a brutal incident of domestic trauma – one played for har-har slapstick chuckles – the pair are put at odds, with the fate of their increasingly manic fellow townsfolk hanging in the balance.

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Wasikowska is equal parts charming and steely as the put-upon Judy, and Herriman plays the one note offered to his villain well, but the story and tone are consistently at odds. The result is an uncomfortable, nervy watch that offers little base-level artistic reward for any audience endurance. There’s no puppet master here – just a pair of hands waving in the air, not quite sure what to do once we’re paying attention.

Judy & Punch is available digitally on-demand starting June 5.

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