GFF19: Fighting with My Family
Stephen Merchant's wrestling comedy Fighting With My Family sticks close to the underdog formula, but it's a formula that works well
The biggest challenge of adapting a wrestler’s journey from the streets of Norwich to the WWE is how to make the story convincing when the sport is ultimately scripted. Thankfully, director Stephen Merchant makes finding the solution look easy. With sharp humour and a lot of heart, Fighting with My Family brims with the infectious, riotous energy of a victorious slam in the wrestling ring.
Most families bond over the dinner table or on a summer holiday, but the Bevis family are not your average clan. When Saraya (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are found fighting in the living room, their parents (Nick Frost and Lena Headey) interrupt the brawl by helping Zack improve his headlock technique. Wrestling is in their blood ("like hepatitis," Saraya chimes) but they struggle to make a living on exhibition matches and the wrestling academy they run in their local neighbourhood. A big break is in sight when Saraya and Zak are recruited to try out for the WWE. The problem: Saraya (who chooses the stage name "Paige") gets picked, but Zak doesn't.
Florence Pugh shines as Paige, who later heralded a women's revolution in wrestling. Even when the film comes across as an ad campaign for the WWE and The Rock (who appears in Fighting with My Family as himself, as well as acting as producer), Pugh brings a pathos that strengthens the film as something more than just excellent branding. Jack Lowden's equally compelling performance should also not be ignored. As a man whose only dream is tarnished in an instant, his arc against Paige's meteoric rise brings the film back down to earth.
Fighting with My Family is a classic underdog story, and for that reason, there's a predictability to it that's inevitable when you stick so closely to the formula. But the reason the formula exists is because it works so well. Fighting With My Family is a feel-good crowd-pleaser through and through; only the most hardened viewers can resist cracking a smile.
Fighting with My Family screened at Glasgow Film Festival and is released in the UK on 27 Feb by Lionsgate