‘Fighting With My Family’ is a movie based on true events surrounding the discovery of WWE (that’s World Wresting Entertainment for the uninitiated) wrestler Paige. She was the first to hail from across the pond in England, but what is most notable about her backstory is that she came from a whole family of amateur wrestlers. This journey through the process of going pro is marked by a family that is both extremely supportive and singularly focused, sometimes to their detriment.
The secret sauce behind ‘Fighting’ is writer/director Stephen Merchant’s low-fi, intimate touch, and a great lead performance from rising star Florence Pugh. Merchant is best known as a caustic, cringe-comedy writer (UK’s ‘The Office’), director, and actor (HBO’s ‘Hello Ladies’), so it comes as a surprise that his first solo feature film has just as much convincing heart and familial strife as it does laughs. His tougher side is represented here by Vince Vaughn as the new recruit trainer. His performance initially comes across lackadaisical, but it becomes apparent that there is good reason for his negative attitude. Paige’s immediate family, brother Zak (Jack Lowden), mother Julia (Lena Headey, far from Circe on GoT), and father Ricky Knight (Nick Frost, hamming it up wonderfully), are all played enthusiastically by a game supportive cast. It’s Pugh, though who continues to be a revelation – contrast this with her performance in ‘Little Drummer Girl’, and it’s becoming readily apparent that she is an actress to watch. She deftly handles Paige’s balancing act of alternating defiance, confidence, and vulnerability as a real human being complete with faults, endearing her to the audience.
It also helps that the film is fully supported by WWE, granting access behind the scenes and illustrating the details of the minor league feeder system, NeXt. Dwayne Johnson (yes, The Rock himself) shows up for two extended cameos, that while stretching the limitations of factual conversations with the budding wrestler, do lend the proceedings a real air of authenticity. By the time of the inevitable finale, set in the real Monday Night Raw arena and filmed in the glossy style of the weekly broadcast, an audience used to the machinations of a rags-to-riches story is fully primed, ready to rock . . .
Written & Directed By: Stephen Merchant
Running Time: 108 min.
* * * (out of four stars) -OR- B