Adapting the real life story of a Norwich teen turned superstar wrestler, Stephen Merchant steps behind the camera for this WWE-backed family unfriendly comedy, executive-produced and starring The Rock.
An idea that doesn’t sound even plausible on paper is superbly realised with genuinely touching moments, perfectly undercut with British wit and featuring a star-making performance from Florence Pugh.
Merchant delivers one of the best homegrown comedies in years that will appeal to those who grew up performing living room RKOs and those who scoffed at the silliness of the make-believe fights.
“It’s not fake, it’s fixed” clarifies Nick Frost’s Ricky Knight, an ex-convict and wrestling fanatic father to Pugh’s Saraya Knight, best known by her stage name Paige. Ricky, alongside his wife Julia (Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister, Lena Headey, in a transformative turn) run a bootleg wrestling gym, which their son, ‘Zodiac Zack’ (Jack Lowden), is the main event.
But when the siblings are invited to try out for the WWE, pro wrestling’s entertainment behemoth, it’s Paige who is chosen for Stateside training and the possibility of stardom, causing a rift in the family, especially with her resentful brother.
This dynamic, which is brilliantly established in a first-frame headlock, provides a grounded, dramatic through line, which floats above the wrestling extravaganza and quirky supporting characters.
It would have been easy for WWE Studios, the tastemakers behind Surfs Up 2: WaveMania, to overreach and produce an extended commercial for the company.
Yet, Fighting with My Family champions a working-class story, that will especially inspire young girls. Not bad for an organisation which has largely preferred it’s lycra-wearing steroid sacks to be male.
It falls to Dwayne Johnson, the de facto face of wrestling, to act as the mascot by inserting himself into our hero’s narrative, although he’s hilariously self-aware: a famous Rock eyebrow is raised to the Vin Diesel feud.
Merchant’s brand of seat-shifting uncomfortable humour lines the script, except we’re laughing with, not at, this oddball family.
The ensemble cast are all given moments in the spotlight, and ring, to shine. However, it’s undeniably Pugh’s film, who like all good wrestlers, sells the fear and theatre of the fights whilst capturing the sensitivity and the determination of an eighteen-year-old girl, isolated from friends and family.
A touching film with a beautifully balanced script, if you’re not cheering and crying by the end you’ve got a stone-cold heart. Expect a new generation of couch-jumping, sibling-slamming wrestling superstars to be inspired by Paige’s story.
Fighting with My Family screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival and is released in cinemas nationwide on Wednesday 27 February.