Fighting With My Family aims to illuminate the world behind the soap opera of professional wrestling presented by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). In an exaggerated biopic style, it shares the story of a British wrestling-mad family, dealing with the contrasting fates of two children that both share the dream of holding that plated gold champion belt above their head in the ring on the main stage.
Florence Pugh (a 2016 British Independent Film Award winner for Best Actress) takes the lead as Saraya, the 18 year-old daughter of Ricky and Julia Knight who are resplendently portrayed by Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Sean of the Dead) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones). Saraya’s story grapples with the mounting pressures from her family to fulfil their belief in her and their financial dependence on her success, as she struggles to define her identity amongst the glamorized WWE world that rewards American bravado, cheerleaders and models. This is contrasted by the reality faced by her brother Zak, played by impressive young Scot Jack Lowden. Zak too has aspirations of becoming a professional to help break his family’s cycle of struggle but upon failing to realise this dream grapples with his own identity and sense of self-worth having essentially placed all hopes for his future into the profession, and having the rise above being told that you’ll never make it, when it’s the only thing you’ve ever wanted.
A surprise collaborative effort between Writer/Director Stephen Merchant (The Office, Logan) and Producer Dwayne Johnson (WWE’s The Rock, Fast & The Furious) sees this biopic brought to life with that crass and subtle humour that we all love the Brits for. It may not satisfy wrestling fans with a true behind the scenes experience, but it does do an excellent job of injecting the personal realities of aspiring to take part in the highly competitive WWE entertainment world where the margins between success and failure can at times be ambiguous and unfair, clearly for the female athletes at least, being far more linked to looks than talent.
Another thing this movie delivers a knockout for, is its ability to contrast. Giving the viewer the triumphant underdog story with Saraya, and the inspirational down on your luck story line of Zac. But most wildly evident contrast is the outrageous and frankly ridiculous family dynamic of the Knights against the slickly produced and often emotionless American world of WWE, which Saraya struggles to make sense of and find her place within all the while meeting the demands of coach and mentor Hutch, played by an understated Vince Vaughan (Dodgeball, Wedding Crashers).
In Saraya’s attempts to overcome her homesickness and isolation, she is also face with the sometimes crushing weight of her family’s hopes and the growing resentment of brother Zak who grapples with the WWE’s rejection and anger towards her for having something he just doesn’t. While the film never strays far from the formula of a quick paced, action driven wrestling romp crammed with foul-mouthed wise cracks, Writer/Director Merchant subtly injects themes of toxic feminism as Pugh slowly comes to realise her role in ostracising herself from fellow female athletes, as well as an earnest illustration of the harsh realities of competitive professionalism, when your achievements to that moment mean nothing and success will not be spoon-fed to you. It’s a refreshing take on the ‘woman coming into her own’ narrative.
On screen, Frost, Headey, Lowry and Pugh create an engaging family atmosphere and you would suspect they really did enjoy the characters that inject a classic English comedic sensibility to the hyper-stylised world of professional wrestling. It’s not until the end credits where you realise just how completely they embodied their roles and lived up to this hilariously strange, but true story. As for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, the one thing you will take away from his performance in this film, is it’s almost complete absence. Helping only to deliver a few punches to the plotline and elevate a cast that could have held its own in the ring without.
Those expecting a mindless sports/action film will find a surprising depth in Fighting With My Family. By no means is this film ground-breaking, or completely family friendly unless you want some rather colourful phrases coming out of your child’s mouth, it is however, supremely entertaining, witty and sincere. If you can walk out of this film without at least one belly laugh and a quickly brushed away heartwarming tear for the underdog, you may find yourself being deserving of a wrestling receipt.
3 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed by Sarah Burley