I think it’s best to make it clear that I am not a wrestling person. I’ve got nothing against it and I have been entertained by the bits I’ve seen, but I’ve just never gotten into it. However, when I saw the trailers for Fighting With My Family I was intrigued, especially since it was being written and directed by Stephen Merchant, who I am increasingly convinced is the main reason Ricky Gervais’ scripted work was as solid as it was. The film itself meanwhile, is a good fun film, with a solid heart behind it.
The film concerns Saraya Knight, a wrestler living in Norwich with her family, all of whom are wrestlers with their own wrestling circuit. After getting an offer to audition for the WWE, Saraya and her brother Zak audition, but only Saraya, now going by the stage name Paige, gets picked to go to America to train for the WWE. This causes Zak to go into a spiral of alcoholism, bitter at the rejection. For Paige meanwhile, she struggles to adapt to the training regime and the culture shock of the other women being trained for the WWE. Now for me, the best parts of the film are the scenes in the first half of the film in Norwich. The core of the film is in the Knight family and if the relationship didn’t work, then the whole film would fall apart. Thankfully, this element of the film is nailed. We feel the connection the family has through the good and bad times and it creates a believable environment for the family. This helps give the film a great heart, with the central relationship between Paige and Zak forming a strong core for the film and the character development. I do feel there are some pacing issues in the second act of the film, and the issues Paige has in America are resolved a bit too quickly, especially considering how much they dominate the second act of the film, but the film always remembers to keep the focus on the Knight family.
The strong core of the film is also helped by the strong performances. Between this, Lady Macbeth and The Little Drummer Girl, Florence Pugh is fast becoming one of the most interesting actresses working today, and here she shows great talent for comedy. There’s this dryness to the way Pugh delivers her lines that helps to create some great comedic moments, but also helps to show the underlying emotional difficulties she has when necessary. Pugh also does great work relating to the stage presence of Paige, working well with the stunt team to have the right body language for something as physical as wrestling, whilst also showing the difficulties she has with stage presence. For the other characters, Nick Frost and Lena Headey are a lot of fun as Paige’s parents, Frost in particular being a comedic highlight through his commercialist tendencies, and the culture clash with more middle class citizens of Norwich, with the way Frost and Headey correct their language being another comedic highlight. There’s a good bit of tragedy in Jack Lowden’s performance as Zak, showing how much he falls and how much he’s tied his life into wrestling and being on the WWE and when he gets rejected and turns to drink. Vince Vaughn is fairly solid as WWE trainer Hutch Morgan, but I think the writing for him wasn’t as strong, and I don’t think it helps that I’m not a fan of Vaughn in general. Dwayne Johnson meanwhile is compelling in his brief appearance, showing a great deal of charisma, even if it does feel completely self indulgent on his end.
On a technical level, Merchant does a good job at replicating the feel of WWE. Based on the clips I’ve seen, the way the wrestling scenes are filmed does a great job at replicating the style and camerawork of the WWE, even going to the quality of the camera. The way the wrestling scenes are filmed gives a strong sense of power to them, allowing those who are not familiar with wrestling to get a sense of the atmosphere of it and to understand the way wrestling is structured, avoiding showing more of the scripted side to focus on the athleticism of the performers and allows the audience to feel the tension of the matches like you are watching them live.
Overall, Fighting With My Family is a strong film, helped by an excellent cast, helping to give the film a strong heart and solid sense of humour. Whilst I think there are some pacing issues, when the film focuses on the Knight family, everything lights up and we get a true understanding of the connection the family has and the importance of wrestling in their lives.
My Rating: 4/5