You would be forgiven for losing interest at the mention of wrestling, because despite being a multi-billion dollar sport and industry, it remains niche and foolish to most people. Of course it is naïve to brush it off as foolish, childish or mindless... but that's an understandable position to take nevertheless. I would, however, implore you to stick around for FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY because it is a fantastic story of family ties, determination and overcoming all odds. It is delivered sincerely, hilariously, and skilfully. Knowledge of competitive sport is not a prerequisite when watching this movie, just as knowledge for espionage bares little relevance to enjoying James Bond. So forget about FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY being a wrestling film and approach it as a story about family... you wont regret it.
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant (tall, lanky guy from The Office UK) and produced by Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), the film tells the story of Paige, a girl from a rough and underprivileged family, who defies all odds to climb to the top of professional wrestling, a sport that her family has devoted their entire lives to performing locally. It is a comedic true account of her real-life story, which in turn follows a trajectory of so many familiar stories. Like countless underdog movies before it, Paige's story is unremarkable from a distance, but extraordinary from her family's perspective.
Florence Pugh (Lady MacBeth, The Commuter) stars as Paige, the “weirdo” from Norwich, England, whose outsider persona became a beacon of hope to girls all over the world. She has a captivating presence on screen, which is at times rough-as-guts while at other times vulnerable and tender. She certainly holds her own and commands the screen with authority. Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Denial) co-stars as her brother Zack, whose own dreams are shattered when he gets rejected at the WWE trials. He is also excellent and offers a counterbalance to Pugh with a performance that brings a lot of weight to their story. The sincerity from these two performers is undeniable and together they elevate the film above being a simple run-of-the-mill hero's journey.
Nick Frost, Lena Headey and Vince Vaughn serve as important support players, depicting Paige's parents and WWE trainer respectively. Frost and Headey are, at first, presented as a typically cliched underclass couple whose lives are lived on the fringes of crime, but as their relationship and dynamics are explored, they soon become rather endearing... albeit crass. They provide the majority of the movie's humour without overstepping their mark or undermining the overall sentiment. Vaughn is great, as always, and sticks to a serious and stern trajectory. He represents the ugly truth of the wrestling industry, giving unflinching guidance and ruthless advice. And then there's Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays himself (there's just something damn likeable about the guy, don't you think?).
If you know the work of Stephen Merchant, which includes most of Ricky Gervais's stuff, then you would know how unexpected FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY is from him. He would have to be the last person you would consider for telling this particular story, and yet he drives it with absolute authority. He masterfully balances the humour with the drama and plays to the tropes without succumbing to kitsch or mockery. His production design and style of storytelling presents a perfect blending of British sensibility with all of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood - the home soil stuff is gritty and grimy, while the American stuff sparkles and shines.
If you're a fan of Paige, or wrestling in general, then you will have a vested interest in her story. You will be keen to see your beloved institution presented on the big screen and may scrutinise the details. But if you're not a fan of the sport then you might get even more out of it. Not only will you be introduced to a cultural icon and a feverishly beloved institution for so many, but you might also come away with a greater appreciation for the skill and craftsmanship that goes into it. And as far as I'm concerned FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY is superb.