A talented teenage boxer living in a small, suffocating town explores his sexuality after developing feelings for the only openly gay student in his high school. While this may seem like a common movie trope, director Welby Ings adds a nuanced and gentle touch to this storyline in his debut feature film. The movie delicately portrays the budding relationship between the two main characters, portrayed with genuine and authentic performances.
Jordan Oosterhof plays Jim, a boxer raised in a coastal town in New Zealand where homophobia is prevalent. The word “faggot” is commonly used as an insult. Jim is preparing for his first professional fight, with his English father Stan (played by Tim Roth) as his trainer. Despite hanging out with other athletes, Jim also has an interest in photography. Oosterhof’s captivating performance showcases Jim’s sensitivity and curiosity about the world. He may appear tough, but he also has a poetic and emotional side. One day, Jim stumbles upon a hidden den built by a classmate. Inside, he meets Whetu (played by Conan Hayes), who faces discrimination on two fronts as both gay and Māori. Whetu bravely and proudly embraces his queer identity in the face of bullies in the town. While there are instances of homophobic violence, it is not gratuitous or exploitative.
Punch is a movie that combines elements of two genres: a drama about the journey into adulthood for the LGBTQ+ community and a sports film, though it leans more towards the former with its dreamy, nostalgic cinematography. However, it may lack the excitement and intense energy typically found in boxing movies. Nonetheless, it delivers an emotional impact with its delicate portrayal of emotions, making it a captivating watch.