The wrestling world is an intriguing phenomenon. It is a massive, multi-million dollar industry that has a breed of superfans rarely seen in any other sport. I have always appreciated the sheer athleticism and skill required to perform what is essentially a muscley dance although I have never been a fan myself. However, being a massive fan of Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras, Life’s Too Short), a man who is essentially the 2nd half of Ricky Gervais’ success, I was extremely intrigued to see if he could make the subject matter I cared little for into something more.
He did. He really did.
Fighting with my Family is an exceptional film. It is a fantastic example of how films about the strength of the human spirit transcend genre when they aren’t caught up in being too preachy or trying too hard.. Just like Cool Runnings is amazing despite a lack of interest in bobsledding and Blades of Glory is boring AF even if you love running – Fighting with my Family is a superb film and a love of wrestling may add to the experience but certainly isn’t required. This is an incredibly well crafted film based on real people, real situations and a real story which makes it all the more endearing and all the more successful.
Where many sporty films focus on the success of the characters rather than the relationships – Fighting with my Family balances both with an assured confidence thanks to Merchants writings and directing. Focusing more on the people than the wrestling, Fighting with my Family is a hilariously well paced film. By spending more time developing relationships between the characters and the struggle for fame and success rather than the fame and success itself, we are taken on a hilarious and touching journey of self realisation. FWMF follows Saraya Knight (played incredibly well by Florence Pugh) as she goes from goth girl in a struggling family with a love of wrestling to the youngest professional female wrestler in the WWE. But this story is not focused solely on a stereotypical rags to riches story of success but more on the relationship between Saraya and her brother Zak Knight (played absolutely pitch perfectly by Jack Lowden). The two siblings grew up obsessed with watching and performing wrestling and neither of them can imagine doing anything else. When only Saraya is chosen by the WWE, Zak is forced back into his normal life while Saraya is thrown into a completely different world. The honest struggle between the characters accepting was is and what will never be is incredibly relatable and provides an incredibly interesting base for the film.
By focusing on these two siblings and the changing dynamic caused by one failing and one succeeding, Merchants film becomes so much richer and deeper than many other films of the genre. Watching the inner turmoil of Zak struggling to find happiness in the “normal” aspects of his life and trying to be happy for his sisters success is incredibly moving and the amount of things I could relate to as a performer myself was really touching.
The casting is incredible. Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) provide not only an incredible chemistry but also much needed and ongoing comic relief as well as an incredible likeness to the real life versions of the characters (which is revealed during the films credits). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is infuriatingly likeable as himself and provides a connection between the fiction of the film and the reality of the subject matter. Merchants cameo is absolutely hilarious and Vince Vaughn provides one of the most understated and grounded performances of his career.
Overall this is an exceptional piece of cinema. Despite not providing many surprises along the way, FWMF is the perfect blend of genuinely hilarious comedy and extremely relatable drama. Fighting with my Family is a masterclass in mainstream film making and for this film fan who isn’t into wrestling it reminded me that a good film is a good film, regardless of the subject matter.