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Film Reviews Review: WWE production Fighting with My Family wrestles you into submission

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

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Classification: PG; 108 minutes

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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

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