Fighting With My Family
Jacob Richardson | 04/03/2019
Better than expected, but largely predictable, this true wrestling underdog story will still entertain.
Dramatising the life story of real-life WWE wrestler Paige (Saraya-Jade Bevis), Fighting With My Family opens on a wrestling-crazed family from a small English town. All three kids of Julia (Lena Headey) and Ricky Knight (Nick Frost) are into wrestling, often competing on the weekend with their parents for money in front of dozens of adoring fan members. But for the brother and sister best friends of Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya (Florence Pugh), the goals is always the main event with WWE. When WWE scout and coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn) comes to town, they think they might just get their chance, but alas while Saraya is chosen to travel to America and become a WWE superstar, her brother Zak is not.
Fighting With My Family has an interesting battle running through the heart of its construction; how to take something that is fundamentally staged and/or (wrestling), and make it feel real. Luckily, director Stephen Merchant has an actual true story to use, and for the most part he does manage to make the familial drama work.
The family is certainly the heart of the film, and the five members of the Knight clan are a strange but heartwarming bunch. The movie is at its best when it is showcasing their weird family ethos, the indelible interrelationships and the familial wrestling matches.
Merchant does well capturing elements of the UK that he loves, particularly in transitioning shots between scenes that are set there. From an acting standpoint, everyone is fairly solid, with only Vince Vaughn turning in something unexpected, which is undoubtedly a benefit. Vaughn plays against his comedic type to bring some real heart to his hard ass coach role.
The strongest moments, however, are undoubtedly the brother and sister moments. When Zak and Saraya are at each others throats, with all the pent up rage and rejection Zak feels bubbling over into in-street screaming matches between the two, the movie hits a strong stride. Jack Lowden in particular does tremendously well, fully absorbing the role of Zak and revelling in the meaty emotion of his side arc under what is otherwise a fairly standard underdog story in the main storyline.
And that’s where the movie hits a snag, because the side arc shouldn’t be the most interesting thing about this film. Florence Pugh does fine as the angsty teenage Saraya, but she never brings anything unexpected or out of the box to this cookie cutter role. The story is all there, and the intrigue is too, but Merchant and Pugh just can’t make that arc sing. The biggest issue with that is that, with the emotionally destroyed brother, Merchant and Lowden do tremendous work. You’ll find yourself longing to be back with Zak as he teaches a blind kid to wrestle, or almost gets himself killed in a bar fight. There are truly heartbreaking scenes there, like when Zak can’t even experience the full joy of fatherhood in the moments after his first son’s birth, because he is too caught up in the pain he feels over having his dreams dashed. Who wouldn’t rather explore that instead of a standard, sub-par Rocky training montage in a Floridian super gym with Vince Vaughn?
What Merchant does really well with here is the UK scenes, because they are unexpected and interesting. There’s something both sad and noble about the content there, and the small scale world of amateur wrestling is one very rarely looked at in film. All the big WWE stuff feels, well, fake, played out and derivative. It’s just a shame that Fighting With My Family doesn’t realise that the most interesting stuff it has to say is right there in the title.
A movie that sings when it goes small and heartfelt, and stutters when it hits the heady lights of show business, but nevertheless an entertaining piece.