Film Review: Stephen Merchant's "Fighting with My Family" is like the WWE - But In A Good Way
I haven’t followed the WWE for about ten years now. Watching it as a kid, the larger-than-life personalities, the garish spandex, the soap opera stories, and the feats of daring and dangerous athleticism were all obviously immensely appealing.
But the behind-the-scenes teamwork required to artfully meld these ill-fitting bits of bread-and-circus spectacle to produce something compelling on a weekly basis remains a fascinating alchemy to me; on the most fundamental level, if two opponents in the ring aren’t working in perfect synergy the stunts will often go horrifically wrong.
Fighting with My Family follows the early career of the youngest ever WWE Diva Champion, Saraya-Jade Bevis aka Paige (Florence Pugh, indomitable, formidable – all of the ‘bles) who’s the youngest in a tight-knit clan of working-class English wrestlers. Fighting with My Family does a remarkably efficient job of establishing the quirks and foibles of this lovable family of oddball wrestlers, and Nick Frost and Lena Heady are great in their roles as the mother and the father, as is Jack Lowden as Zac, her older brother.
You’re utterly invested when Paige is chosen to be part of the big time WWE and Zac sadly doesn’t make the cut. Although this is mainly Paige’s story, there’s a parallel narrative that runs throughout the film: the burden of being chosen and the burden of not being chosen. Her goth-y fashion sense and sardonic English wit initially make her stand out embarrassingly in the homogenous sea of blonde-haired blue-eyed model wrestlers who entirely lack a sense of irony. And Zac coming to terms with who he is if the dream he’s worked for his whole life doesn’t come to pass adds an original wrinkle to this familiar rags-to-riches narrative.
In true WWE style, Fighting with My Family is a successful amalgamation of different genres and affections. It’s a rousing biopic, a sports/teen comedy, a sanitized advertisement for the WWE as this splendid dream factory where only the special ones can make it (and this is where Vince Vaughn portraying a tough guy talent scout shines). There are big and scary corporate masters to be served here, and that means a safe and conventional movie. If you’re going into this expecting anything approximating the gritty dirge of The Wrestler, then readjust those lofty expectations.
However, writer/director Stephen Merchant never loses site of what matters – which is the coming-of-age theme. And he blends the fish-out-of-water humour and the triumphant moments to undeniably entertaining effect. It’s a breezy watch with big laughs and an even bigger heart.