Title: Fighting with My Family
Written and directed by: Stephen Merchant
Starring: Florence Pugh, Nick Frost and Vince Vaughn
Classification: PG; 108 minutes
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