Released: 21st March
Seen: 24th March
Let’s get this out of the way right up the top; I’m not a fan of wrestling. I’ve never gotten into it, I grew up right when it was really starting to explode in popularity and can even remember kids in my class in primary school yelling “The Rock is pure electricity” and not having a single clue what they were talking about. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that a lot of people really love and I really just can’t get into. So, a film that follows a family that is madly in love with the sport is going to have to work a little harder to win me over. It can’t just rely on a lot of insider knowledge in order for me to be able to get into it, it needs to be a little more than that. It needs to somehow play a balancing act between giving the wrestling audience what it wants while also providing those of us outside that very specific fanbase with something to enjoy. Imagine my surprise when the movie starts and I not only end up enjoying it, I end up loving almost every single second.
Fighting with My Family is about Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak Knight (Jack Lowden), both of whom are professional wrestlers in a local wrestling tournament that’s run by their parents, Patrick (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey). They’ve been sending in their tapes to the WWE for years trying their best to get signed up and finally Saraya and Zak get called for auditions with coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) where they’re put through their paces and Saraya takes on the stage name ‘Paige’, after her favourite character from the show Charmed. After the audition process, Saraya is signed on but Zak is not, and from there the story of a pair of siblings being torn apart by one of them realising a dream that they’ve both had begins… also The Rock is in this movie because The Rock is in everything. The Rock is in you right now, he is omnipresent and he will one day rule us all.
To this movie’s credit, it’s not really about wrestling. I don’t mean that in a negative “God, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with wrestling” way, the movie is absolutely packed with wrestling scenes but the actual focus of the story is the relationship between Saraya and Zak, their sibling bond being torn apart and put back together throughout the movie. The movie is never better than it is when the two of them are on screen together, they provide the heart of the film that really makes everything work. I care more about the two of them mending their relationship than about literally anything else in the movie. This rowdy little family has such a powerful bond that they make you fall in love with them. They may be rough around the edges, one of the family might be in jail for putting someone in a coma, the father might’ve robbed banks in the past and only got saved from a life of crime because of wrestling, but you love and root for them because you can tell that they love each other. Plus, their raw passion for the sport is infectious as hell. I repeat, I’m not a fan of this sport at all but when this family is cheering and screaming while watching a wrestling match, it’s hard to resist the urge to join them in embracing their passion.
What’s even more stunning is how this film handles some genuinely surprising topics. While this film is quite clearly a branding exercise (Hi there WWE Studios, producing this film within an inch of its life) they don’t shy away from the reality of the sport. They bring up the “It’s all fake” and counter it with pointing out that while they do script and stage this, it still hurts and can still cause pain. They don’t pretend it’s perfect, that everything comes easy, they show that it’s hard work and that some people involved might not be great and that not everyone is cut out for it, and that’s kind of impressive. I didn’t expect to see a scene where the brother dresses up like a girl in order to wrestle with his sister and supporter her in her first big match, but it happens and it’s amazingly adorable. There’s an entire subplot about a blind kid being taught to wrestle. I want a film about that kid, his storyline is precious and it’s handled so wonderfully. It starts almost as a joke, a “How can you teach a blind kid to do this?” kind of one-off joke but we keep coming back to it and it’s not only a genuinely sweet plot, it’s a great way to inform the audience about Zak’s character and how he is a pretty major figure in his home town. There are plots about the other people trying out which can just be described as “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and it’s done wonderfully, especially towards the end of the film. I also genuinely love the cameo’s by actual wrestlers in this. One by Sheamus and… I think it’s The Miz, it’s him or Big Show (again, I do not know wrestling BUT Sheamus is visually hard to forget so I’m using a cast list for those names) where they’re just talking about what food to eat and it’s genuinely hilarious. Thea Trinidad as AJ Lee, the champion that everything’s been working up to, she’s also insanely good and in the brief time we have with her on-screen, we automatically know that she’s a force to be reckoned with before we even see her wrestle. And then… there’s the Rock.
So this film’s biggest flaw is how it handled some of its actual wrestlers, the big one being The Rock. Some actual wrestlers turning up is to be expected, it is literally produced by WWE Studios, it’s about one of their biggest young stars so naturally, it’s going to want to litter the movie with wrestlers. It kind of does this well with some cameos that are borderline fanservice, because those cameos work even if you don’t know why these people are important… but then you have these elongated sequences where The Rock is just there because… he’s just there. He turns up for a cameo that literally reminds us that he’s in movies now, they have him turn up again later on for a climactic moment but he’s in maybe 5 minutes of the movie, and his is the first name on the list of ending credits and he’s the biggest thing on the poster. This film also says John Cena is in it, but he isn’t. He turns up on video from other matches but they don’t actually get him to be in the film and he actually gets a credit too. There’s also just a lot of time taken with Saraya’s growth, like to the point where she doesn’t actually grow fully until literally the last second and there’s a point where you want to yell “Oh just get out there and wrestle, damnit”. She’s still a great character but that does get on the nerves just a bit.
Fighting with My Family is a surprisingly sweet film with more heart than I could hope to describe. If you’re a fan of wrestling then sure, you will probably enjoy this on a different level than I will ever understand but if you want to see a great little family film about a group of outsiders trying to forge their own path in the world and making it on their own terms, this is something special. Smart, funny, a joy to behold. Fighting with My Family won me over without that much of a fight.
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