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
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
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!