Don’t fight it. ‘Fighting with My Family’ is a good movie.
Written and Directed by: Stephen Merchant
Starring: Florence Pugh, Dwayne Johnson, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Jack Lowden, and Vince Vaughn
“Fighting with My Family” – Some people want to be rock ‘n’ roll singers, and others hope to be cowboys. For proof, just look back at Bon Scott’s wish in AC/DC’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer” (1975) and Boys Don’t Cry’s declaration in “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” (1986). Other folks dream of becoming ballerinas, center fielders, quarterbacks, teachers, doctors, or astronauts.
For Saraya-Jade Bevis (Florence Pugh), she wants to be a WWE wrestler. Actually, her dad Ricky (Nick Frost), mom Julia (Lena Headey) and brother Zak (Jack Lowden) all have the same dream. They are a wrestling family who manage, work and brawl in the ring for their own local promotion, the World Association of Wrestling in Norwich, England. Hence, writer/director Stephen Merchant’s film title “Fighting with My Family” makes perfect sense. Now, the family doesn’t really fight, because pro wrestling is scripted entertainment, but the bumps and bruises are real.
Actually, Saraya’s journey is a real-life one, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson wanted to bring her story to the big screen.
“I know that family, a crazy, loving (and) at times dysfunctional family. That was my family growing up,” Johnson said in a recent interview.
Merchant also could relate to Saraya’s experiences.
“This is a working-class family who just had these dreams and these desires, and particularly (the) kids’ to go on and enter the world of entertainment and shoot for the stars. That’s something that I responded to very much,” Merchant added.
Even though the film is packaged with familiar underdog themes, it is easy to respond positively to “Fighting with My Family”, whether you are a wrestling fan or not. Although, admittedly, pro wrestling fans will better relate to the material.
These four wrestlers are perfectly happy in Norwich, as they produce (and perform in) their shows and clinics, but when the WWE has a tryout in London, Saraya and Zak figuratively and literally jump at the chance. Saraya, who also goes by wrestling names Britani and Paige, punches her ticket to the WWE training center in Orlando to hopefully make the minor league circuit. Far from home, this stranger feels out of place in this strange land of sunshine, pristine corporate offices and blonde-haired beauties.
She has to find her way.
The film easily finds ways to engage the audience, and it starts with Pugh’s convincing performance. Pugh said that they only had a limited time to work out their wrestling moves, but this actress flips, spins, punches, and kicks like she’s grappled in the squared circle for years. She also has the acting chops to pull emotional strings with a new sibling conflict that emerges, and Lowden successfully carries the other half of this unfortunate struggle.
Keep in mind, with all this talk of fighting, punching, brooding, and toiling, Merchant’s picture is also quite funny, which, of course, captures the spirit of pro wrestling, and Frost, Johnson, and Vince Vaughn – who plays Saraya’s/Britani’s/Paige’s WWE coach Hutch – openly lend their comedic talents. Although, be warned, Vaughn is dramatically-less frat boy and much more drill sergeant, when whipping the wrestlers into shape.
At times, “Fighting with My Family” feels like one long WWE commercial, because the logos, references, toys, posters, and arena events regularly appear on-screen, so the theatre experience doubles as a product-placement nirvana. Then again, Saraya lived through these events, so buying into (pardon the pun) the marketing - rather than fighting it - allows one to embrace the film, and the performances and story are strong enough to deliver magical goosebump-moments. “Fighting with My Family” is surprisingly emotional, and Saraya – who is always referred to as Paige these days – was speechless when Johnson wanted to make a movie about her.
“I was crying my eyes out,” Paige said.
Sounds like someone’s dreams came true.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.