Fighting with My Family

Review by Greg Evans

Directed by

Stephen Merchant

Starring

Dwayne Johnson Florence Pugh Nick Frost

Anticipation.

Wrestling and movies don’t tend to mix well.

Enjoyment.

A crowd-pleasing underdog that plays to its strengths.

In Retrospect.

Not a classic but no jobber by any stretch of the imagination.

Florence Pugh plays an aspiring WWE wrestler in Stephen Merchant’s entertaining sports drama.

The history of pro-wrestling movies is mixed, to say the least. For every The Wrestler there’s a Ready to Rumble, a film that appears so embarrassed to be talking about wrestling that it goes out of its way to ridicule it. There are many great documentaries, too, which pay tribute to wrestling’s clichés and the people behind the soap opera theatrics. This brings us nicely to Fighting with My Family, which for better or worse is all of those things.

Based on a 2012 TV documentary of the same name, the story focuses on the ambitions on Saraya Bevis (Florence Pugh), who hails from a family of professional wrestlers in Norwich. Her parents, Julie (Lena Headly) and Patrick (Nick Frost), run a local promotion where Saraya and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are the top stars, with Zak also working as the head trainer, showing local kids – including a blind boy – how to run the ropes and take bumps.

The siblings dream of competing for WWE, the world’s biggest wrestling company, and after persistent calls they are invited to a trial in London. It’s here that the once tight unit of Saraya and Zak is compromised, as only Saraya is signed up and whisked off to the WWE’s developmental camp in Florida, leaving Zak to bitterly lick his wounds and contemplate what could have been.

As he grows more and more despondent, Saraya, now rebranded as “Paige”, discovers that her pale complexion and goth appearance is neither the norm in Florida nor the WWE. This leads the pair to reappraise what they value in life and what got them this far.

For a film centred around an industry that calls itself ‘sports entertainment,’ Fighting with My Family isn’t too interested in the art of wrestling, which is to its benefit. By focusing on the unique and amusing family dynamic, we are allowed instead to appreciate the fine supporting cast on show. Although Pugh is the main focus, playing her role with a naive sincerity, the grounded performance given by Lowden gives the film a real sense of working-class grit and authenticity.

Elsewhere, Frost is on reliably good form and is given many of the funniest lines. Vince Vaughan plays a believable veteran whose seen Saraya’s story all too often and Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock brings some genuine A-list charisma and credibility to proceedings, even though his involvement in the story isn’t entirely accurate.

The film only struggles when it switches focus to the actual wrestling. In-ring sequences feel a little clunky and confusing, never fully capturing the jaw-dropping feats that wrestlers are capable of. The awe and spectacle of a live wrestling show or the emotions that performers also falls a little flat, feeling more like a re-enactment than the genuine article.

If you’re already familiar with Saraya’s story you won’t be disappointed, as director Stephen Merchant plays to the strengths of the original documentary, pitching his film as a crowd-pleasing, heartfelt family drama. Though it doesn’t dig deeper into the harsh realities that many professional and amateur wrestlers face, this is a welcome addition to a wildly varied cinematic lineage.

Published 17 Feb 2019

Tags: Dwayne Johnson Florence Pugh Jack Lowden Lena Headey Nick Frost Stephen Merchant

Anticipation.

Wrestling and movies don’t tend to mix well.

Enjoyment.

A crowd-pleasing underdog that plays to its strengths.

In Retrospect.

Not a classic but no jobber by any stretch of the imagination.

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