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film review

Florence Pugh (left) stars as Saraya 'Paige' Bevis and Jack Lowden (right) stars as Zak Knight in Fighting with My Family.Robert Viglasky/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Title: Fighting with My Family

Written and directed by: Stephen Merchant

Starring: Florence Pugh, Nick Frost and Vince Vaughn

Classification: PG; 108 minutes

Rating:

2.5 out of 4 stars

Lena Headey, left, and Nick Frost, right, play Paige's beyond-the-mat parents.Robert Viglasky/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

The film's writer-director TK Merchant chronicles Paige's real-life story as a kid who moves from the no-tier circuit of Norwich to the bright lights of WrestleMania.Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

As an inspirational underdog story, Fighting with My Family is a pleasant and passable enough affair, all heart and sweat, carried by a dogged lead performance from Florence Pugh. But as a branding exercise for World Wrestling Entertainment, the film is a jolt of corporate-synergy lightning, destined to inspire countless kids to chokehold their way to superstardom.

This doesn’t make writer-director Stephen Merchant’s film particularly cinematic or artistically ingenious, but it does highlight the British filmmaker’s surprising knack for disguising a crass commercial as just another crowd-pleasing family drama. (I admit, I did not see this project coming from Merchant, given his history on the ultra-cynical British version of The Office and HBO’s cringe-y Hello Ladies.) Whatever opinions you may have about the WWE – perhaps you think it’s sexist, or maybe you know how it can chew up the toughest of performers and spit them right back out – will be gently washed away as Merchant chronicles the real-life story of Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Pugh), a kid who moves from the no-tier circuit of Norwich to the bright lights of WrestleMania.

There are few shocks along the way – even producer Dwayne Johnson’s cameo is spoiled on the poster – but all the obligatory ups and downs are given decent weight by Pugh, as well as Nick Frost and Lena Headey as her beyond-the-mat parents. And for most of the film’s run-time, that’s enough. After all, it’s a movie about professional wrestling – the blows may feel real, but the match is fixed from the very beginning.

Fighting with My Family opens Feb. 22