27 Mar 2019

Review - Fighting with My Family: enough spark even for non-wrestling fans

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 27 March 2019

Fighting with My Family tells the real-life story of a young British woman who conquered the massive world of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).

If you're not a true wrestling believer, this film is certainly not going to transform you into one, but it is entertaining, says Simon Morris.

Simon Morris: If you want to see an example of mad movie mashups, check out the poster for Fighting with My Family, and try and imagine a universe that contains all of these elements.

There's the massive Dwayne Johnson - aka The Rock - and the idiot from Shawn of the Dead, Nick Frost.

There's Game of Thrones' arch-villain Lena Headey and Ricky Gervais's spindly offside Stephen Merchant. And to one side, two respected young actors, Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh.

Somehow the fact it's set in the world of wrestling suddenly makes sense.

It's been a while since I dipped into American wrestling's spectacular WWE - in fact, when I knew it it was called WWF.

Nothing much seems to have changed, apart from there being rather more women in the ring. Back then they were mostly sinister managers, distracting referees outside the ropes.

But spectacular WWE events are one thing. At the other end of the market are small-time bouts, featuring the likes of Norwich's Knight family.

There's Dad and Mum - Nick Frost and Lena Headey - and their kids Zak and Saraya who fights under the name "Britney".

Now the first thing you need to realize with a wrestling movie is, it's about combat, but not about sport.

Very few fights are left up to chance, but woe betide anyone calling wrestling "fake". Not even Zak's future mother in law.

There's one dream that keeps young wrestlers like Zak and Britney going. It's the chance that they might one day get a phone call like this one.

Hutch is scouting for talent in Britain, and he invites Zak and Britney - now renamed "Paige" - to come and try out.

Paige is keen, but Zak is over the moon. This has been his dream forever - that and meeting The Rock face to face.

Dwayne Johnson is one of the producers of Fighting with My Family and clearly one of the driving forces.

As a former WWE star himself, he's not only familiar with the world, but knows what it's like when someone extraordinary comes along.

The original, real-life Paige was that someone, apparently, and Johnson hired his buddy Stephen Merchant to tell her story. Not only write it but direct it.

Part Rocky, part Ken Loach - and a comedy. How hard would that be? As it turned out, it was all in the casting.

Florence Pugh is better known for drama - the movie Lady Macbeth and the spy thriller The Little Drummer Girl last year - but she's effortlessly funny as the Norwich girl out of her depth.

And Vince Vaughan, an actor who's been off our screens for a while, makes an appealing comeback as Hutch, the Man from WWE.

Fighting with My Family points out that big-time wrestling bouts aren't about beating your opponents - they're usually fixed. They're about winning over the audience, who never are.

What they want is a show, and who they want giving them the show are larger than life characters.

As Hutch says, it's not just about skill, it's about something extra, the "spark".

For some reason Paige had it, and Fighting with My Family has got enough of it, too.

If you're not a true wrestling believer, this film is certainly not going to transform you into one.

But watching Florence Pugh toss two cheerleaders out of the ring, seeing The Rock give Paige her shot, and enjoying Lena Headey give Nick Frost a great big kiss…

This film's got more happy endings than it knows what to do with.

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