This tale of unlikely success in the WWE is predictable, yet entertaining
Despite being based on a true story, Fighting with My Family still manages to draw on virtually every cliché of every underdog sports movie ever made.
An experienced viewer of such films—if he were so inclined —could call out each upcoming scene—in advance—with fair accuracy: the childhood expression of a dream, check; the surprise opportunity to achieve that dream, check; the tension with a loved one over one’s priorities, check; the give-it-up lecture from a world-weary former star; the digging deep montage, check, and double check.
Yet, this light-hearted domestic drama about a British family devoted to wrestling entertains not in spite of its predictability, but maybe because of it.
Saraya (Florence Pugh) and Zack (Jack Lowden) are a close sister-brother pairing within a family of quasi-professional wrestlers in the English hinterlands. Father Ricky (Nick Frost) and mother Julia (Lena Headey) barely scrape by with their comically small-potato wrestling matches and a ragtag training camp. What they lack in talent they make up for with oversized hopes for their children’s success in World Wrestling Entertainment, or the WWE (spoken of in awe-filled tones usually reserved for deities and extraterrestrials).
In a twist of fate that would be implausible if not true, Zack and Saraya are given the opportunity to audition for WWE, but only Saraya is selected. The rest of the film plays out in expected form (see above). But Fighting with My Family is rescued from being tiresome by the game spirit of the director, Stephen Merchant, and his winning cast, especially Pugh, who invests the Saraya with a blend of pluck and befuddlement.
Vince Vaughn plays Saraya’s WWE coach with a familiar but credible crustiness. Even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson makes several appropriate cameo appearances as himself.
Director Merchant, who also wrote the screenplay, may be familiar to American audiences as a tall, geeky actor on The Big Bang Theory, Table 19, and his own HBO comedy series, Hello Ladies. He clearly understands the rough-and-tumble optimism of the British lower classes, and some of the movie’s most resonant sequences are those where the opulence of American capitalistic enterprise is starkly contrasted with the main characters’ pedestrian lives across the pond.
But don’t let that passing comment obscure the fact that this film, like its WWE milieu, exists primarily, even exclusively, to entertain. Fighting with My Family does that remarkably well, even though the outcome here, just like WWE Raw, is scripted well in advance.
Opening in March: Captain Marvel, first Marvel-verse movie focused on a female superhero (Brie Larson), March 8; The Aftermath, romantic melodrama set after World War II with Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgard, March 15; Dev Patel and Armie Hammer star in a tense real-life drama about a terrorist attack on an Indian hotel, March 22; and director Tim Burton’s live-action take on the Disney classic, Dumbo, March 29.
Fighting with My Family: 3 out of 5 Stars