Review: Fighting with My Family (2019)

A comedy-drama smackdown! We review of Stephen Merchant's film, Fighting with My Family

If you’re a fan of wrestling, this film is for you. If you’re not a fan of wrestling, this film is for you. Yes, this is a film about a family that loves, lives and breathes everything about World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), but more than that it’s about a family finding out what really matters. 

Written, produced and directed by Stephen Merchant, the film is inspired by the Channel 4 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family and tells the story of WWE star Paige (aka Saraya-Jade Bevis) and her real-life family.

The story follows reformed gangster and former wrestler Ricky, his wife Julia and their children, daughter Saraya and son Zak, as they struggle to make a living as wrestlers in tiny venues around the UK. After years of chasing the family dream, Saraya and Zak finally get the chance to audition for the WWE’s training programme. But when Saraya gets picked for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at WWE stardom and her brother doesn’t, the weight of the family dream falls squarely on her shoulders. And for the first time, the dream that held the family together threatens to tear them apart.

Florence Pugh (Marcella and Lady Macbeth) stars as Paige, one half of the would-be WWE superstar duo. Brilliantly cast, Pugh’s performance and presence is reminiscent of Tatiana Maslany’s in Orphan Black. Throughout Saraya’s journey, Pugh fills every moment with an innocence and strength that endears the character to us. From deliciously cringe-worthy moments and moments that sink the stomach to moments that lift the heart and make your face ache from smiling, the actress holds the integrity of the film steadily.

Alongside Pugh, Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead and Paul) as Ricky and Lena Headey (Games of Thrones) as Julia, bring a deliciously humiliating parental humour that everyone can relate to. While on the surface they appear to be living vicariously through their children, the warm, honest and earthy performances of both actors reveals two parents who are simply, and deeply, delighting in the shared passion for wrestling they share with their children. And their fierce and devoted love is all summed up in one perfectly crafted line:

“You are the spark in our lives, no matter what you do with yours.”

Now while Zak’s storyline may appear predictable to some, it is real and rich. Portrayed with skill by actor Jack Lowden (Dunkirk and Mary Queen of Scots), Saraya’s brother Zak is full of emotional nuance. Lowden tells his story in a way that will resonate with many and enhances the grounding aspects of the film’s visual narrative, which have been crafted by a first-class production team. 

Using dark and gritty scenes of Zak’s life in the UK as he becomes a young father to punctuate the light and colourful scenes of Saraya’s journey in the States, director Stephen Merchant, cinematographer Remi Adefarasin and production designer Nick Palmer create a juxtaposition that skillfully highlights each sibling’s struggles. And underpinning it all are the screenwriting talents of Merchant. 

Binding the common threads of love, loneliness and the need for self-worth and self-belief together, Merchant delivers a poignant message: Do what you love. And if you want what you love to mean anything, then you have to love it irrespective of what others may think, or of what it may or may not bring you.

Though there are one or two moments where its American confidence and British reservedness clash ever so slightly more than they blend, the film’s emotional core is finely balanced with a sense of humour firmly rooted in real life.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable watch that ends with a reassuring and all-to-true echo… “Just ‘cause millions of people aren’t cheering when you do it, it doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

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