Fighting With My Family, 2019.
Directed by Stephen Merchant.
Starring Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, and Dwayne Johnson.
Based on a true story, FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY follows reformed gangster Ricky, wife Julia, daughter Paige and son Zak as they make a living wrestling together in tiny venues. When Paige and Zak get the opportunity to try out for WWE, the family grabs a once-in-a-lifetime chance to turn their wildest dreams into a dazzling future. However, brother and sister quickly discover that to become superstars, both their talent and their relationship will be put to the test.
When it comes to wrestling movies, there are really only two categories, the dramatic Oscar-bait like The Wrestler, or the cheesy comedy like Ready to Rumble or Nacho Libre. Fighting With My Family strikes gold by hitting a middle point and by taking inspiration from the oldest and most popular of sports movies – the underdog story.
Before he was a movie superstar, Dwayne Johnson was ‘The Rock’, one of the biggest professional wrestlers in the world. Now he’s returning to his roots by teaming up with Stephen Merchant, creator of the original The Office, to tell the definitive pro wrestling story, only this isn’t about The Rock.
Rather, this is the story of Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh), the daughter of a daughter so obsessed with wrestling they stage their own matches and arrange their own local wrestling league. She’s been training since she was 13 year old with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden), and their parents Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey).
One day the WWE finally responds to a tape sent by the siblings, asking them to audition to the WWE’s training program, NXT. The problem is that only Saraya gets accepted, creating a riff between the siblings as she leaves for Florida to train while her brother stays behind. She now must struggle with the real hard work involving wrestling, as her brother copes with the jealousy and pain of not getting in the program.
Fighting With My Family doesn’t pretend to reinvent the wheel in any way, and based of the synopsis you can probably guess where the film is going. This is a story you’ve seen dozens of times before, but Fighting With My Family still manages to stand out by winning over the audience with heart and rousing entertainment.
Despite counting with a Hollywood superstar as a producer, this is very much still a British comedy. Stephen Merchant injects his particular brand of insult humor to bringsa new take on the tired sports genre. Characters trade jabs and dialogue flies by at lightning speed, specially ones he appears in his small role as Zak’s girlfriend’s father, who doesn’t know anything about wrestling. There are plenty of supporting characters providing comic relief, Saraya’s parents being the biggest ones, and Frost and Headey give hysterical performances that will make you laugh, but also worry about Saraya’s upbringing with those maniacs. Even The Rock himself has a small but significant cameo that is a strong contrast to his most recent roles.
Florence Pugh does a great job portraying Paige’s strong personality and resilience, even as she hints at how vulnerable she is once the stakes get real and she is facing achieving or losing her life dream in an instant. Merchant also knows when to pull the jokes and focus on the dramatic and emotional core of the film.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a film about wrestling without awe-inspiring choreography. There are plenty of fights, including an incredible recreation of Paige’s iconic main roster debut at the Divas Championship match, full with incredible action and also emotion. Proper credit should go to Tessa Blanchard, Pugh’s stunt double and a great wrestler in her own right, who does extensive stunt work while also bringing rawness and emotion to her performance.
Fighting With My Family doesn’t break the mold of sports movies, but it does a known story with enough heart and energy to easily win over audiences and make more than one kid pick up interest in pro wrestling. And really, isn’t that the point?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★