ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

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Directed by Guy Bennett
Starring: Sonja Bennett, Michael Riley,
Marcia Laskowski
90 minutes
Full Screen
DEJ Productions

Nobody seems to actually be up in Canada, and nothing ever works out, except maybe in Vancouver. Even there, the often straight-to-video Canadian film gives off the impression of occurring after some tragic doomsday apocalypse. All the buildings are shiny and clean… but no one is on the streets. The extras will invariably be gathered in one or two key scenes, a boxing match, a bar, and the rest of the film takes place in a land with only the central characters in existence.

Perhaps it is this sense of lonesome isolation that enables Canadians to slip the bonds of normality more easy than their American brethren. Punch seems to promise it will be a semi-sexy, semi-violent puncher-outter along the lines Knock-out, Girlfight, Honeybee or the other female boxer flicks which are currently shyly standing around on the Hollywood Video shelf. Instead it starts out as a kinky Elektra-complex psycho (and I do mean psycho) drama, and ends on a muted note of hopeful uncertainty about a young girl’s future outside the mental ward.

Little Ariel (Sonja Bennett) is turning 18 and her borderline incestuous relationship with widowed dad (Michael Riley) is starting to cross over into the "real". She has an almost psychotic violent streak, which requires her being home-schooled (though she spends most of her time in a furious tap dance). When daddy doctor announces he "met someone" and the someone turns out to be Mary (Marcia Laskowski), the mousey sister of a champion topless female boxer Julie (Meredith McGeachie), the stage is set for punches to fly and breasts to be bared.

But then nothing goes according to plan. Yes, Ariel does clock Mary when she dares suggest that the daddy-daughter relationship she is running up against is "creepy," and yes her sister does ride over to basically threaten them both. But everyone watching is imagining that Ariel will eventually replace Julie as topless champion of Vancouver much as she herself is replaced by Mary in her father’s bed.

It’s all very Greek and/or Tempestuous, and indeed Guy’s nearly whispered, eloquent and intriguing audio commentary includes an autobiographical confession: He had a similar relationship with Sonja until she was 10, at which time he realized the damage he was doing to her psyche. His cutting it off cold caused her to cry for an entire summer. Sadly, she is not represented on the documentary to clue us in how it felt to be re-enacting that 10 year-old heartbreak for a film directed by her own lover/father.

It’s fascinating, but not very erotic, and the topless female boxing scenes are also totally drained of any sex appeal. The sister’s main opponent is a giant, older woman (Catherine Kirkpatrick) with a passing resemblance to Norm from Cheers. While the sister herself is sort of a cross between Julie Louise Dreyfuss and a linebacker. During their bloody bouts one worries about those poor breasts of theirs, dangling limply in the ring like four innocent little half-inflated balloon children who took the wrong turn coming back to their seats.

Bennett continually thwarts expectations: Ariel does not become a topless boxer, and the final bout between her and Mary’s sister is devoid of cat-fight pleasures. What's even worse is that Julie and Ariel do not even have a lesbian affair. One almost starts in a great scene outdoors in the rain, but Julie has to pick this time to start learning to go "straight". Instead she says "I like to fix broken girls… but they don’t stay fixed." As if that's an excuse. As a consolation prize, Julie pummels the hell out of Ariel in the garage, head on the cement floor, and then goes back to the bar and tries to date the effeminate misogynist bartender (Vincent Gale) in whose face she’s always symbolically hurling glasses of water.

"It’s hard to reinvent yourself," Mary summarizes at the conclusion of this worthwhile little endeavor. Indeed, in his "re-inventing" the topless boxing film--transforming it into something more like American Beauty meets an episode of My So Called Life--Bennett thwarts viewer's expectations for titillation with the tenacity of Godard but without the humor or politics or art. It could have been so much more awesome: Sonja Benett even resembles XXX-rated actress Bambi Woods" from Taboo 2, but she doesn’t have sex with her father (as Bambi so eagerly did); she doesn't get to have sex with her future sister-in-law (as Bambi certainly would have); she doesn’t become a topless boxer; she doesn't even start training. So what the hell... and why? Sad-eyed Mary and Ariel's effeminate doctor dad don’t even kiss. What is groundbreaking through all this is in fact the subversive way Guy Bennett plays upon these expectations. For example, let's look at the two nude scenes Sonja does have: one involves her propositioning her tutor by appearing bottomless in full lower frontal nudity on her father’s bed. When the tutor dares to be turned off, and for a reason explains "How would you like it if I sat on my mother’s bed and asked you suck my dick?" She replies "That would be fine, but I have a weak stomach so I’d probably end up puking on your penis." She then puts her pants on and storms off. In another, she is in her own bed, and tries to get her father to give her a breast examination while his date waits downstairs. Again, Guy takes our expectations and turns them around which is to his credit, for these are the scenarios viewers all secretly want to see, accompanied by soft focus and library funk scores. Instead they’re achingly clear and well lensed by cinematographer Gregory Middleton and accompanied by minor key American Beauty/6 feet Under style synth-steel-drum angst scoring.

We're given our cake, and it looks tasty, but somehow we don't want to touch it. It's too vulnerable, too frail and we're ashamed we could be thinking of sugar at a time when people are hurting.

This is a movie where the women are all strong, and the men all weak-- British Columbia as the land of human preying mantis. The men at the boxing matches are faceless drooling mob of bikers, posing no real threat of masculine menace, while the bartender whom Julie ultimately settles for is obviously much more puny than she is. When he offends her by making up some repulsive story about her for the amusement of a patron, she says "Little man, I will lay you out cold," and he shrinks away in fear. Ariel’s dad is also afraid of Julie: when he thinks she has come to beat up his daughter he warns "I will do what I have to do. I will call the police. I have a baseball bat, if it comes to that." He is confessing here he is unable to stand up and fight her "like a woman" i.e. with his fists. In this way Julie’s sister is also "less than a woman" in that she actually behaves like a "lady."

Of course in an underpopulated world like the Great White North, everyone must do their part. Lesbian tendencies must be abandoned, and even the weak males given a chance at cross-pollination. Xena would not approve, but this isn’t New Zealand; the men can get their heads bitten off only AFTER conception, people… after conception! Do it for Canada! Your country's film industry needs extras!

c. 2004

C. 2013 - Acidemic Journal of Film and Media - BFG LCS: 489042340244