Film Critic Alex Green rejoices at Fighting With My Family – finally a wrestling film with a brilliant cast that is just plainly enjoyable!
Ahh, wrestling. Despite the peaks and valleys the popularity of soap opera sport has gone through, it’s always been a strange thing; walking a fine line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ that no other form of entertainment has ever done. In 2019, wrestling is the most athletic it’s ever been, leaning into the sports aspects with wrestlers resembling less and less the pumped-up characters like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. Depending on your sensibilities, this is good or bad. Wrestling in film has rarely been a good time for either wrestling and film fans. As a fan of both, it’s so disheartening that the only great film is The Wrestler from 2008.
So here we are and we have a new wrestling movie out in the cinemas. Fighting With My Family tells the story of Saraya Knight, better known as Paige (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak Knight (Jack Lowden) as they attempt to fulfill their dreams of making it in wrestling, going from their families’ wrestling organisation in Norwich to making it in WWE in the US.
Those acquainted with the real story will know Paige as a key figure in women’s wrestling over the last 5 years, who has helped usher in a new era of progressive Western women’s wrestling. Similarly, those people will be able to spot the slight edits to the story and the slight inconsistencies. After all, WWE themselves are one of the producing studios on this project, so it’s worth taking some events with a pinch of salt. Never the less, Paige is the kind of person worth of great story, and Fighting With My Family does that with a flourish. It’s a movie packed with genuine heart and depth, mainly due to not actually being about wrestling. It closer resembles the format of a classic sports movie a la Rocky, with even a seemingly obvious Chariots of Fire reference. This is a wise choice as it plays out like an occasionally cliché but brilliant underdog story.
Huge praise goes to all the personalities involved with the film, so let’s start with the actors. Florence Pugh follows on from her terrific performance in Lady Macbeth with another deep performance as Paige. She is instantly likable, throwing herself into wrestling sequences with gusto and providing a beating heart, alongside an excellent understanding of the isolation and struggle for identity in unfamiliar surroundings. Jack Lowden is also fantastic, portraying her struggling brother whose obsession with wrestling eats away at him. These two have great chemistry and give the film a key sense of soul. I’d be remiss not to mention the talents of Nick Frost and Lena Headey as their parents, who are both hilarious and charming. And of course, with the film being produced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, he does have an utter blast playing himself. The cast in this film are all on top form.
It helps that they are provided by a script provided by the always witty Stephen Merchant. His writing makes the script effortlessly funny and the film feel like a fun, witty film without losing the heart of the matter in the midst of crassness. It helps to have Nick Frost and co. delivering all the comedy with brilliant seriousness. It is also worth noting that this is Merchant’s directorial debut, and it’s strong. His direction isn’t particularly flashy, but the film has a good look and an overall consistent pace. Whilst maybe a stronger director may get more out of the themes visually, the direction is solid performance for a first timer. Combined with a soundtrack that feels very well composed, the visual and audio aspects of the film do nothing to harm Fighting With My Family.
The bad stuff is very few and far between. Obviously not everyone has wrestling experience, so some wrestling sequences are shakily filmed to avert the audience’s eyes from professional wrestlers stepping in as stunt doubles. Better filming would have been appreciated here just to make it less jarring. It also can be said that the film does rely on the montage sequence slightly too heavily, using it in a very cliché way to just get to the next part as opposed to doing anything new with the sequence. It does undercut some moments which could feel far more important if given the proper time, such as Paige overcoming her physical differences. Obviously not all these elements needed to be addressed, but more care to these points would have been appreciated.
Despite these, it feels so fantastic to say that after wrestling/film sub-genre have given us rubbish to average tosh such as Ready To Rumble, Bodyslam and All The Marbles, we have a new great film in the genre which is executed with so much heart and soul. Hopefully, Fighting With My Family will be a box office success, if you smell what The Rock is cookin’.
Combining terrific performances with wit, heart, great characters and an inventive script, Fighting With My Family tells a terrific story of isolation, jealousy and obsession with the occasional film making misstep that can be slightly forgiven by a debuting director. It’s just great to see wrestling get a new mainstream film that entertains both wrestling and film fans.