Review by Joseph Fayed
It's Oscars weekend, and that means a singular queer film will be in the spotlight. That film is usually a coming-of-age story about self love and acceptance. While Punch is certainly not up for any awards this weekend, its familiar tropes would make you think so... until you actually start watching it.
The film follows Jim, who is training to become a boxer. Jim begins to grow close to his male classmate Whetu, while dealing with homophobia in their small town and Jim's alcoholic father. Jim is left to decide how he wants to define himself as a young man. All these struggles seem to make Jim more of an engaging protagonist.
Jim is presented as having two interests: boxing — that aligns with his father's vision — and his passion for making music videos. One of the biggest flaws of this film is not exploring either of his interests at length. Jim is seemingly good at both, but the plot doesn't allow much we can compare and contrast the two with. The story could have taken a deeper focus on Jim's alcoholic father, played by Tim Roth, who deserves better than being associated with this, and the unrealistic expectations he had for his son. Instead, we see how the dad is wasted, figuratively and literally, potential. Jim frequently avoids his father, so the tragic homelife narrative is mostly left for audience interpretation.
The character of Whetu, if given the creative forces of a better writer/director, would have been a fascinating exploration into young male sexuality. Since he is meant to be the love interest of the lead, we slowly begin to unravel his character's mind as the film progresses. All I could think was why he thought Jim was worth it. Good chemistry in a romance has to come across better than an awkward first date, and unfortunately this doesn't. The tender moments the two share are few and far in between, and are acted like two actors at their first table read. Their biggest threat to their relationship is poorly handled, and their ultimate send off feels like the end of a music video Jim would have directed.
Punch is a film that tries and fails to get its multiple themes surrounding its main characters off the ground. Underneath it all is a love story you are more confused by than appreciative of. At least Whetu's black nail polish was one thing that remained consistent throughout this lackluster romance.
Punch hits theaters and VOD on March 10.