Director: Stephen Merchant
Starring: Florence Pugh, Dwayne Johnson, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn, Jack Lowden, Julia Davis, Stephen Merchant
Written by: Stephen Merchant
Running Time: 108 mins
Release date: 27th February 2019
The story goes that Dwayne Johnson while filming in London, was in his hotel room when he came across a documentary called The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family. So taken back about the family from Norwich who loved wrestling, they sent their little girl to the WWE, he decided to make a feature film about it. He needed a writer and wanted it scripted by a Brit, he turned to his former co-star of The Tooth Fairy, Stephen Merchant. Merchant also wanted to direct, and now we have his film, Fighting With My Family, one of the best feel-good movies we’ve seen in a long while.
Saraya Knight comes from a family of wrestlers. Her parents, Ricky and Julia, run a small-time wrestling company, while her brother Zack, teaches the sport to local kids from a council estate. Saraya and Zack dream of becoming members of the WWE. When they are invited to try out at the O2, it is Saraya who gets accepted, while her brother is left behind, a man with his dreams crushed. Things are hard for Saraya as she is flown to the US, hundreds of miles away from her family and she feels she doesn’t match up to the high standard of the establishment.
Before you stay away because you are not a wrestling fan, this is far more than adults grappling with each other. This is a film about family, about a determination to succeed, about an underdog is a world far more significant than she ever could conceive. What Merchant has done is played to his strength, using his comic talent to bring a story about a group of dreamers who get that one-in-a-million shot. This is a funny film. The banter within the family is one of the high points from the scene where Zack invites his girlfriend’s parents to dinner to receiving a phone call from The Rock himself and not believing him.
It would have been easy for Merchant to play the whole film for laughs, but he allows us time to enjoy the characters, giving them depth before throwing Saraya into the WWE world and the toughness that follows. She is the outsider. A short, pale girl from Norwich surrounded by women who were models or cheerleaders, trying to impress their drill sergeant, Hutch, a former wrestler himself who pushes his trainees to the limits. The film follows the same routes of other great underdog films such as Rocky, while still keeping in touch it’s British roots, with an air of cynicism. Elements that shouldn’t work but do. Thus we watch this young girl pushing herself to the edge, and when the finale arrives, it’s like watching those epic fights from Stallone’s now legendary boxing character.
Apart from a razor-sharp script that has more heart than most, the performances are terrific. Florence Pugh, who has already impressed in Lady Macbeth, is superb as Saraya/Paige. She captures the lost girl brilliantly while showing that determination never to give up. Ably supported by Jack Lowden as her brother and Lena Headey as her loving mother. Nick Frost steals the film as her father, while Dwayne Johnson pops up as himself, oozing star quality.
I absolutely loved Fighting With My Family. It’s a joyous celebration of the underdog which will make you smile from start to finish. Even is Wrestling is not your thing, you will be won over by this warm and charming comedy-drama.