Fighting With My Family
Can Fighting With My Family, a fact-based movie about pro wrestling, truly be as fun as it seems?
Written and directed by comedic Swiss army knife Stephen Merchant (co-creator of the original The Office, etc.), the narrative telling of World Wrestling Entertainment performer Paige’s rise from her parents’ gym in Norwich, England, to global fame is an unexpected gem full of well-earned humor and heart.
Molding a solid career after her breakout turn in Lady Macbeth and last year’s under-seen Netflix historical action/drama Outlaw King, Florence Pugh gives her best work yet as Saraya, whose wrestling family of mother Julia (Lena Headey), father Ricky (Nick Frost), and brother Zak (Jack Lowden, Dunkirk) provide a tight emotional framework and one from which high-quality jokes emerge with gleeful frequency.
When Ricky’s relentless promoting of his children’s skills at last leads to auditions for WWE’s minor-league arm NXT and it’s Saraya, not Zak, who’s given a chance to prove her worth in Florida, an exceptionally rich dramatic rift emerges between the siblings.
As each grapples with the fact that, while Zak’s the most committed and the one who got Saraya into the sport, she’s the one with the shot at realizing the family dream, Fighting With My Family evolves from a lark into a mature piece of filmmaking, one fortified by Zak’s loving coaching of area youth in the art of wrestling.
Funny business, however, remains Merchant’s focus, and a natural choice considering the assembled talent. Back in comedy after superb dramatic work in Brawl in Cell Block 99 and the second season of True Detective, Vince Vaughn earns his biggest laughs since 2013’s underrated The Internship as talent scout/trainer Hutch. Similarly appealing is Dwayne Johnson, returning to where his career started as his Rock persona, who pops up fairy godmother style at crucial junctures.
With his script’s humor and heartstring-tugging nicely complementing one another, Merchant takes the time to develop a memorable and, more importantly, believable requisite stretch where Saraya doubts herself and returns more determined than ever.
Even more remarkable is that despite knowing she’ll succeed, Merchant & Co. manage to cast an air of doubt over the proceedings that in turn bolsters each triumph and keeps wrestling die-hards and novices alike glued to the action.
Grade: A-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark