Film: “Fighting With My Family”; Director: Stephen Merchant; Cast: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn and Dwayne Johnson; Rating: ***
Here is a sports film inspired by the true story of an English family of wrestlers who sent their daughter Saraya-Jade Bevis to join the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).
Florence Pugh plays Saraya Knight, whose parents (Nick Frost and Lena Headey) run a local wrestling league in Norwich, England. As a child, she had no desire to join the family troupe of wrestlers. But after being pushed into a public bout with her brother “Zodiac” Zak (Jack Lowden), she finds it thrilling. And from thence, despite struggling to attract audiences to their family’s bouts, the two siblings dream of joining the WWE.
Several years later, talent spotter Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) invites Saraya and Zak, to an audition as individuals. Despite her reluctance, Saraya is picked for the WWE. She adopts the ring name “Paige” and moves to Florida in the US to train.
How she survives in the US and claims the “Champions” title after receiving occasional pep talks from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, forms the crux of the tale.
While this may appear like a familiar tale with subtle motivation and all the trappings of an underdog story, what keeps the plot chugging is the humour that’s belted by the rustic Knight family. Some of their lines like; “Dig me dead and bury me pregnant” or “You have a stiffya”, are downright vulgar and crass, but that goes fine with the Knights, for every member is inherently funny and the ensemble play their characters with a genuine warmth that feels lived-in.
There’s a traditional ‘meet the in-laws’ sequence where they clash with an uptight family who ask precisely how fake wrestling is, and get the appropriate looks. This is a film that is upfront about wrestling having a scripted flow, but it never pretends that there is no effort involved. Any scene that involves the Knights together is almost guaranteed to make you chuckle, as each one of them appear candid and natural.
Apart from the humour, the emotional beat is woven around Zak’s storyline. How he feels let down, neglected and cheated as his sister gets picked and he doesn’t, initially seems intriguing and worth watching. He is used as a “Journey Man” (the one who takes the hits to make the star look good) who goads his sister with, “you should be proud you are doing it for your family”.
So someone unfamiliar with the Bevis family story might read the film’s title as a promise that Zak will eventually get his chance to shine in the WWE, fighting his sister. At least that’s what the title sells. They would surely be disappointed.
Dwayne Johnson’s fans too would be disappointed, seeing him in this two scene role which he seems to be performing with natural ease and charisma, purely out of an obligation to the director.
Overall, despite a formulaic story telling approach, writer-director Stephen Merchant’s “Fighting With My Family” shines because of its fascinating story.