3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

For fans of entertainment history, Punch and Judy is a familiar puppet show that originated in the early 1600s and is credited with establishing the term ‘slapstick’ humour. The character Punch would be introduced and his relationship to his wife, Judy, would eventually sour. He would eventually bring out a stick that was used to conjure up laughs as he used it on his hapless victim. Director Mirrah Foulkes (Dumpy Goes to the Big Smoke) takes the story back to its origins. The writer reimagines the creator of this famed puppet show and the inspiration behind the characters of Punch and Judy. 

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In the bleak and raucous township of Seaside, which was nowhere near the sea, the famed puppeteer team of Punch (Damon Herriman) and Judy (Mia Wasikowska) attempt to resurrect their show. Due to his penchant for the drink, the famed entertainer had fallen on hard times and hoped to reignite his station by starting over in the less than reputable community. His violent comedic act found an audience amongst the people who had regular ‘stoning days’ during the 17th century. Things begin to turn around for his career because of his understanding and supportive wife and the desire to care for their beautiful young daughter. 

One day, Judy goes into town to repair the marionettes before the evening show. She leaves her husband in charge of their little girl. While coming out of a drunken stupor, a tragic event occurs and Punch must figure out how to cover up the death of his child. Judy discovers his plans and ends up the victim of the violent nature of her husband. Even though she is left for dead, the young mother is brought to the camp of the local outcasts and nursed back to health. As her husband tries to cover his tracks and manage the show without Judy, she plots her revenge against her husband and his puppets. 

The dark comedy label given to this bizarre and violent tale is heavy on the dark and questionably comedic. Foulkes vision of Seaside is a forlorn and filthy depiction of mankind at its despicable worst and the humour provides little reprieve from the murky story of woe. In an attempt to make a feminist statement through a historical lens, she delivers a hopeless and twisted yarn that proves that revenge cannot provide the satisfaction desired. 

Wasikowska and Herriman have built their careers on distorted and broken roles that keep them relegated to independent cinema. They have both had their taste of the bigger stage in Hollywood productions. Still, these talented actors both seem to find their satisfaction in more off-colour and sombre characters.

This Australian production does push to the edge of sanity. It prefers to keep the production wallowing in the mud of the human condition and the mire of the human soul. Fans of the macabre and bizarre will bask in the murky depths of the evils that this film has to offer. Judy and Punch, an experience reminiscent of a slap in the face, a punch in the throat and a kick in the stomach that is all done for laughs. That is how they do it!

REEL DIALOGUE: The world is broken

Watching Judy & Punch is like seeing an object lesson in the depravity of creation. The language, the violence and even considering what makes us laugh. A big question that has to be asked in light of this film is what is God doing about this mess and is there any hope for this broken world? 

It is a monumental question that can be answered in the person of Jesus. Not that it is a simple answer, but not until you look into his life and death will the answer be evident. Pick up one of the accounts of his life and see how God answers this multi-layered query with one man. 

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

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