Fighting with My Family
Amercian sports movies traditionally fall into two categories. They’re either about plucky athletes who try their darndest, come close to success but fail (e.g. the first Rocky) or those who overcome said odds and have a triumphant, cathartic win (Rocky II). They travel pretty common roads, with plenty of training montages, moments of drama (often family related) and lows before the emotional highs. Fighting with my Family has all these tropes, but it also has a secret weapon – the caustic, British wit of writer/director Stephen Merchant.
This is particularly effective given that the film is about a family of Norwich, UK wrestlers, dreaming about life in the WWE. The true life backstory goes that Dwayne Johnson was watching TV and came across the Channel 4 documentary about an East Anglian family and their love of life in the ring. It reminded him of his own background as part of a family of semi-pro wresters traveling the circuit and trying to make a go.
The movie takes this conceit – the small town talent and looking for international glory – and mixes it with real life events, such as when Mr. Rock met members of the family as they were trying out for the big leagues.
It’s a rags-to-riches story told with enough heart and sly humor to elevate it above the usual fare. Florence Pugh plays Saraya “Paige” Bevis, who along with brother Zak (Jack Lowden), father Patrick (Nick Frost), and mom Julia (Lena Headey), help educate kids on the joys of wrestling, while entertaining locals with acrobatics in the ring.
The film exudes a great deal of warmth, and the charisma of Johnson in particular reminds us just how engaging he can be even in small doses. Pugh does extraordinarily well as Paige, providing a fierceness undercut by real reticence about the nature of her dream and the effect it’s having on those around her. Lowden has a more sulky part, and is thus given less to work with, but even he elevates it above the norm.
There’s plenty of glitz and spectacle, and it’s hard not to think of the movie as little more than propaganda for the WWE. However, thanks to Merchant’s tight script and the commitment of the performers, we get a movie that entertains and amuses as much as it conforms to genre expectations.
Fighting with my Family may not carve any new paths, but it’s a really good version of a classic underdog tale, elevated by some terrific performances and a genuinely funny script. Like really good candy, the film may be too sweet at times, but you just can’t help munching it down with pleasure.