Fighting with My Family movie review: Stephen Merchant’s subversive direction lifts this wrestling biopic

Mihir Fadnavis

Apr 05, 2019 11:46:26 IST


Sometimes a movie ticks just the right feel-good boxes and is likeable enough to transcend its clichés – Fighting with My Family, a biopic of WWE wrestler Paige is precisely such film, snugly fitting in the crowd-pleasing comedy drama genre, thanks to excellent performances and Stephen Merchant’s exceptional and mildly subversive writing and direction.

 Fighting with My Family movie review: Stephen Merchant’s subversive direction lifts this wrestling biopic

A still from Fighting with My Family. Image via Twitter/@emilyxwade

We’re introduced to the Knight family in England who wrestle with each other for a local DIY WWE tournament show of sorts; the father Patrick (Nick Frost) and the mother Julia (Lena Headey) run the gig while their kids Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya (Florence Pugh) are the principal stars, though the former has dreams of getting into the big leagues in America. Irony lands on them like Andre the Giant in a steel cage match when Saraya is the one chosen for a WWE training camp and whisked off to Florida, while Zak sits at home trying to process his missed opportunity.

Don’t let the by the numbers nature of the story discourage you because this is not a film about surprises, but about a string of memorable moments. It is of course unclear how true to life the biopic is, but Merchant keeps the tone of the story strictly family friendly, with most of the obstacles that Paige faces being relatable but easily conquerable. Pugh, of course is key here as she brings fire and energy in every scene that she appears in and the colorful texture of her personality and her family is absolutely mined for laughs; although the best moments are reserved for the shifting dynamics between her and her brother, who seems to increasingly have a grudge against her and the people who chose her over him. Even in the ultimate cliché of sibling rivalry, Merchant finds cutesy and relatable moments to make the situation seem unique enough for us to care about.

The wrestling scenes are just amazing – it does seem like the actors and not the stunt double are doing all the hard work, and Merchant’s low-fi choice of shooting the scenes adds the kooky lack of authenticity that the sport exudes. Dwayne Johnson, of course, shows up as The Rock who becomes a spirit guide of sorts for Paige, and he gets a scene that is, by far, the highlight of his entire career. Merchant being a comedian himself seems to have found a way to extract genuine laughs from Johnson as an actor as opposed to laughs from the action hero that he generally is. Vince Vaughn has an extended cameo as Paige’s trainer and although his introduction is solid, his character is missing a big payoff moment. The supporting cast of Paige’s colleagues, on the other hand, is amazing and their characters are written with a surprisingly subversive frame of mind.

You learn next to nothing about the dark side of Paige’s life but this isn’t Darren Aronofsky’s film to begin with; the levity this film commands is absolute, making you feel as if you’re on the highest note of Rocky throughout its runtime. And when executed with conviction and enough flair for craft, a simple story of a determined young lady from a small town making it big such as this one will always be an evergreen storytelling medium.

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Updated Date: Apr 05, 2019 11:46:26 IST