EXPECTATIONS: A predictable, yet heartwarming crowdpleaser.
REVIEW: Based on a true story (well-documented in the Channel 4 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family), born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Paige (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her loved ones behind and face this new cutthroat world alone. Paige’s journey pushes her to dig deep and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star.
Underdog stories are the types of stories that are well-worn to the point of repetition and yet they continue to succeed with audiences due to the crowd-pleasing formula. But in terms of underdog stories that are actually true, this is the formula becomes harder to accomplish.
Biographical films, especially ones that revolve around triumphs of the human spirit, can range from the truly inspirational The Pursuit of Happiness to award-bait films like the dull and manipulative The Blind Side to unmitigated disasters like the agonizing Patch Adams.
In the case of Stephen Merchant‘s Fighting With My Family, the film manages to take its story and plays up one’s absurd expectations of it as well as the viewpoint of wrestling, but it never forgets the human element of it, and that is why the film is a very entertaining and heartwarming crowd-pleaser.
First off, the performances. The entire cast are all fantastic with their roles that not only hit their mark, but exceed beyond their stereotypical roles. Florence Pugh manages to not only portray the distinct sides and personas of Paige convincingly, but she manages to make the personas extensions of the real Paige, rather than being just an act that the character can do.
Both Nick Frost and Lena Headey are a lot of fun as Paige’s parents, as they both do well in a comedic sense as well as a dramatic sense, particularly in the case of Headey as she has a small heart-to-heart with Paige. Vince Vaughn doesn’t break a sweat, playing the stern motormouth authority figure, similar to his role in Hacksaw Ridge, but he dials down the overacting and thankfully imbues much-needed humanity to the role. Dwayne Johnson plays himself and as always, is amusing and a good sport at making fun of himself, however ridiculous the role goes.
But the standout of the film is Jack Lowden, who manages to a fantastically understated performance that is honest, genuine and he singlehandedly balances out the more spirited elements and fittingly grounds the film.
The direction by writer/director Stephen Merchant enlivens the story with a well-timed comedic sense and witty, good-natured humour peppered throughout. But thankfully, Merchant manages to keep the plates spinning, playing up and down the backdrop of wrestling, which is shown in a passionate way, if not entirely realistic; as well as portraying the human drama in an honest fashion.
Is Fighting With My Family formulaic? Is it predictable? Is it corny? Yes, it definitely is. But is Fighting With My Family heartfelt? Is it funny? Is it well-acted? Is it well-told? Yes, it is all of those things too and regardless of its faults, it is a film that is worth watching, regardless of the level of knowledge of wrestling. Recommended.
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Cast: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Mohammad Amiri, Hannah Rae, Julia Davis, Stephen Merchant, Ellie Gonsalves, Aqueela Zoll, Kimberly Matula, Thea Trinidad
Director: Stephen Merchant
Screenwriters: Stephen Merchant, inspired by the documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family