Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Movie Review: FIghting With My Family

Fighting with My Family *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Stephen Merchant.
Written by: Stephen Merchant.
Starring: Florence Pugh (Saraya Knight), Nick Frost (Ricky Knight), Lena Headey (Julia Knight), Jack Lowden (Zak Knight), Dwayne Johnson (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson), Thomas Whilley (Young Zak), Tori Ellen Ross (Young Saraya), Olivia Bernstone (Ellie), Leah Harvey (Hannah), Mohammad Amiri (Ez), Jack Gouldbourne (Calum), Elroy Powell (Union Jack), Hannah Rae (Courtney), Julia Davis (Daphne), Stephen Merchant (Hugh), Vince Vaughn (Hutch), Ellie Gonsalves (Maddison), Aqueela Zoll (Kirsten), Kim Matula (Jeri-Lynn), James Burrows (Roy Knight).
Fighting with My Family shouldn’t be as good as a movie as it is. The film is clearly designed to be a promotional tool for WWE – wrapping up the wrestling giant in feel good packaging, telling an underdog sports story with a straight face, which is odd because the movie itself admits that wrestling is “fixed, not faked”. So while the film builds to the type of final match triumph that most sports movies of this ilk build to, it’s odd here since we in the audience know that the ending has been scripted before they step into the ring, although the movie itself doesn’t acknowledge this. The film really wants you to believe that this was a classic underdog story – one in which WWE Superstar Paige becomes the champion on pure grit and determination – and that clearly isn’t the case.
And yet, I could not help but be won over by Fighting with My Family despite knowing this. A large part of that is because of the performance by Florence Pugh in the lead role – who showed in Lady Macbeth that she is a great actress, and here shows that she is a movie star as well. She exudes charm and humor and you are immediately on her side from her first moments. The supporting cast is all fine as well – in clichéd roles to be sure, but fine just the same. Nick Frost is better here than he’s been in any not directed by Edgar Wright as Paige’s lovable lug of father, a former criminal, turned amateur wrestling, and while Lena Headey has less to do with her role as her mother, she’s excellent as well. Vince Vaughn is in fine form as the clichéd tough love coach pushing Paige after she is signed by the WWE, and has to work her way up the ladder through boot camp. Best of all is Jack Lowden as Paige’s brother Zak – who dreamed of being a pro-wrestler his entire and is devastated when his sister is picked, and he isn’t. The film wisely sticks with him as well – and shows his journey after Paige moves to Florida to pursue her dream.
The film was written and directed by Stephen Merchant, who co-created The Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais, and is now out on his own. He has a few scenes as an actor as well as the uptight father of Zak’s girlfriend, that makes good use of his unique gifts. The film has the same kind of humor that Merchant is known for, but with a lighter, less cynical, less awkward heavy touch. He keeps things going smoothly, and with good humor. He also knows when to get out. He makes good use of producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who shows up twice in an extended cameo, poking fun of his own image (and Vin Diesel).
I’m not going to argue that the film is great, or that you will likely remember it long after you’ve seen it. I will say, if you are a sucker for an “inspirational” sports movie (and I am) then this one more than scratches that itch, and with a great performance by Pugh – making me want to see whatever she has next even more than I already did.

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