Professional wrestling has long been an enigma in the world of entertainment. It is hugely popular in certain segments of society and has had multiple crossover stars over the years — including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and John Cena. And yet, the “sport” itself has always sat on the edge of the mainstream, successful enough that most people know about it but not quite challenging for dominance in the entertainment sphere.
Pre-eminent pro wrestling organization WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.) is looking to change that with the true-life rags-to-riches story Fighting with My Family. The film centers on the Knight family, who have wrestling in their blood. Both parents, Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey), have been longtime wrestlers in their native Norwich, England, and they’ve passed on the passion to their kids, Saraya (Florence Pugh) and Zak (Jack Lowden).
Both kids manage to score tryouts with the WWE, but only Saraya is signed by talent scout Hutch (Vince Vaughn). The bulk of the film deals with their individual struggles, as Saraya (now going by the stage name Paige) fights to prove herself in far-off Florida, while Zak tries to make sense of a life that will not include his dream job.
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, the film smartly zeroes in on the family aspect of the story. The outsider nature of the family dynamic makes for an easy-to-swallow underdog story, and their camaraderie — and the community they’ve developed — makes for a lot of great jokes.
While there are cursory attempts at explaining the world of wrestling, Merchant and his team let the action do the talking. They acknowledge both the theatricality of the sport and skill and athleticism required by participants. For the most part, Pugh, Lowden, and other actors acquit themselves well in this respect.
However, even for wrestling novices, it’s clear that the film omits much of the actual story. You kind of have to roll with it as Saraya/Paige is plucked from near-obscurity to the biggest stage of the sport in what seems like record time. Also, although it might be expected since Johnson serves as a producer of the film, they throw in appearances by The Rock a little too often to be believable.
Both Pugh and Lowden make for relatable protagonists, with each equally at ease in action and non-action scenes. Frost is a seasoned comic actor, and he makes a meal of every moment he’s called on to shine. Headey, known best for playing Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, seems slightly miscast in her role, especially since the character is given hardly anything to do.
Fighting with My Family is a fun and surprising emotional story about a quirky, ambitious clan. Wrestling fans may be most drawn to it, but it still has a lot to offer even if you’ve never watched a match in your life.