When it’s all said and done, Fighting with My Family‘s bush-league to professional yarn is a crowd-pleasing good time with a lot of heart.
Very few sports films blend broad comedy with authenticity and it is rarely done with any biographical true story with great success (the very forgettable Keanu Reeves vehicle The Replacements comes to mind.) Stephen Merchant’s Fighting with My Family isn’t interested in an authentic rags-to-riches tale as he is going for straight-up laughs over a struggle or sacrifice to make your dreams come true narrative. His film about the rise of one of wrestling’s break-out stars of the past decade is more feel-good than offering gritty authenticity. If you are willing to hand yourself over to it, much like watching the sport of professional wrestling itself, this bush-league to pro yarn is a crowd-pleasing good time with a surprising amount of gumption to go along with a lot heart.
Fighting with My Family is based (seems very loosely at that) on the rise of wrestler Saraya Bevis, who rose to become a champion in the premiere wrestling league that has increased its presence in female professional participants that has been largely attributed to the rise of her WWE ring persona “Paige” (if you believe what the end credits tell you anyway). It’s a rags-to-riches tale that started with wrestling in shows with her brother (Dunkirk’s Jack Lowden) that were put on by her wrestling father Patrick (Nick Frost) and her mother Julia (Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey), who are wrestlers themselves. Saraya and Zak get a call up from their traveling family-run wrestling show across the greater England to try out for the world’s biggest squared-circle stage: a shot at being a part the World Wrestling Entertainment brand.
Fighting With My Family has less in common with based-on-a-true-story sports films like The Rookie, Miracle, or Remember the Titans, and is more akin to a film that came out last year: Instant Family, which takes a serious subject and douses it with broad comedy and the “feel-good” goose-bumps. Merchant’s film applies that same concept to a chasing-your-dreams film and blends likable comic supporting turns (Nick Frost’s ex-felon and a minor league Vince McMahon is a hoot), well placed cameos (with Dwayne Johnson playing his “The Rock” persona for both laughs and well-timed moments of importance), and an engaging lead performance by Outlaw King’s Florence Pugh, who is believable from the start as a hard nosed grappler talented enough to make you feel the weight of her household on her shoulders.
Fighting with My Family though is ironically much more interesting with scenes involving the Bevis family business with small-town life, and ironically less compelling when “Paige” fights her way through the WWE training league on the big stage. One can’t help but wonder if a better film could have been concentrated on the rise from a small-town wrestling family, the ins and outs of working at your craft from the bottom up, and ending the film with getting the call up to her dream. Instead, Merchant’s scripts skip over the grit, brushes over the details and goes with a wide-ranging story trying to capture the big picture via an almost speed-reading through the fine-points approach without delving too deep (being produced by WWE Films, there is obviously more of an interest in branding than true authenticity).
At the very least, Fighting With My Family knows what it is: an enjoyable film that is easy to like, hard to hate, while making you laugh and offering an absorbing story lead by a strong real-life female subject.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.