Thursday, 7 March 2019

Fighting With My Family (2019)

Fighting With My Family poster.pngDirector: Stephen Merchant
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Dwayne Johnson, Vince Vaughn, James Burrows, Thea Trinidad, Kim Matula, Aqueela Zoll, Ellie Gonsalves, Stephen Merchant, Julia Davis

Growing from its initial output of professional wrestling, WWE have thrown their hat into numerous rings, including movies. It would've been sooner or later the studio told a story about one of their star wrestlers, and they've done that with Paige, whose life with her wrestler family was previously the basis for a Channel 4 documentary.

The children of wrestler parents, Zak and Saraya Bevis (Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh) have aspirations of wrestling professionally. When the chance comes for them to try out for WWE, Saraya (competing under the name "Paige") is chosen to advance to the boot camp, while Zak is turned down.

Making his solo directorial debut, Stephen Merchant approaches the world of wrestling with a complete respect for it. There's no sense of being above the material or sneering at it, Merchant makes it clear how much it means to people, be it a form of entertainment, or helping to provide a drive and focus for many lives. For the siblings at the centre of this tale, it's an adoration passed down from their parents, turning into a career they wish to follow, and their success of reaching this goal varies from each other.

While the tale of course follows Paige working towards achieving her dream, it wisely also follows Zak, who has to grapple with the reality of failing to realise his own dream. Their respective journeys are intercut with one another, as Paige struggles to adjust to WWE's style of entertainment, while Zak spirals into depression and neglecting others. Both Florence Pugh and Zak Lowden are tremendous in their roles, rising to the challenge of portraying their characters inner struggles, while demonstrating impressive physicality for the more practical side of the performances. Nick Frost and Lena Headey do great work as the parents, who try to fulfil their dreams through their rising star of a daughter, while making sure the characters are anything but one-note.

In an extended cameo appearance, Dwayne Johnson wonderfully plays on his public persona, covering his charming movie star self, while delving into his wrestler icon complete with an entertaining "It doesn't matter" monologue. It's a good way to bank on the star power of the biggest figure to come out of WWE, and draw a wider audience into the story of this figure. Less successful is Vince Vaughn's portrayal as Hutch Morgan, a plot device with cookie cutter attempts at depth, who feels like a wrestling version of his drill sergeant from Hacksaw Ridge. There's even a needless reference to a sex tape, which considering recent events, feels in poor taste. A special mention for Stephen Merchant's onscreen appearance as Ned Flanders in Norwich.

The story is told in a very by the numbers manner, especially in the final act, but it works to the films strengths. While admittedly not being a wrestling fan, Merchant has made this tale accessible to a wider audience who aren't familiar with the ins and outs of the wrestling world. A few aspects could've been expanded upon, such as the eldest Knight sibling who's been in prison, but these don't get in the way of how utterly enjoyable the end result is, with the wrestling scenes being utterly electric.

A story of familial struggles told in the wrestling world, Fighting With My Family makes its central tale accessible through an engaging narrative, brilliant performances, and a great sense of fun. There may be notable narrative shortcomings, but they don't impact the film too majorly.

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