Fighting with My Family (2019). Directed by Stephen Merchant. With Florence Pugh, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Lena Headey and Dwayne Johnson.
If you think of Darren Aranofsky’s The Wrestler, subtract the gritty realism and swap it with a tested sense of movie convention, and with that you might arrive halfway toward Stephen Merchant’s wrestling-based drama Fighting With My Family, a film that ensures broad appeal but with arguably less resonance thanks to an underpinned desire to be mass consumable and easy to swallow.
There a good reasons why that isn’t always a bad thing. The film’s rags to riches central narrative is amiably carried forward by Florence Pugh playing the role of WWE Diva Saraya ‘Paige’ Knight and her young Simon Pegg-alike brother, Jack Lowden. Pugh is like a watered-down faux gothic version of Aarya Stark – a poster child for the cool uncool kids.
An appearance by the one and only Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson would be more potent were it not for a plethora of famous faces in prominent supporting roles. Yes Nick Frost and Lena Headey are fun and add star quality but you get the feeling the starry light would have been more emphasised had it been kept back. A little more of a lean to Ken Loach wouldn’t have gone amiss.
From a rest of the world perspective, the WWE is perhaps one of the few surviving examples of the USA of yesteryear. No other nation has anything like it. Amped-up sports theatre on an inflated scale with evolving storylines that span decades and intertwine with real life tales of glory and devastation. Through Vince Vaughn’s ‘coach’ the movie offers the occasional glimpse into the nuances of a world that is all-too-easy to dismiss as panto in spandex. Behind the curtain there is real pain and sacrifice.
A more grounded tone and some lesser-known faces would have made the protagonist’s leap from Nowheresville, Norwich to the WWE a more striking contrast. This is one of those aim-to-please-everyone films that is happy to have one-foot-in two camps and hopes most of us won’t notice. Temporary fun.