“Fighting in the family” (2019)
Running time: 108 minutes
Written and directed by: Stephen Merchant
Featuring: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, and Dwayne Johnson
The Rock: “Paige, I myself have come from a wrestling family too. I know exactly what it means to you. But don’t worry about being the next me. Be the first you.”
Released this week on Blu-ray and DVD is the drama/comedy “Fighting in the family” (2019) that proves no matter where you hail from and how weird you may feel in actually doing what you love there is a chance that your dreams will come true. Even though this movie is primarily about wrestling in the UK it is actually a narrative that can be framed around any endeavour one can think of, it has archetypal characters that actually prove some of the universal themes that not only exist in cinemas but in life as well. Not only is “Fighting in the family” a sports based movie that follows almost any other similar narrative of a person who has a gift, is unable to use it to its full potential until they overcome an obstacle to finally being triumphant as well as proving to others that they are not only worthy but can win at the final hurdle no matter the previous setbacks. Interestingly because of the way the World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) operates there is also an element of the movie that is regimental in nature, so we have a character enter the narrative that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a war movie, that character is the ‘drill sergeant’, here played by Vince Vaughn. So while on the surface this movie may seem light as well as a little frivolous it, in fact, has much going in its favour that makes it not only a worthwhile watch but is extremely enjoyable.
One of the many reasons “Fighting in the family” works as well as it does is because the framework of the story is based on a documentary by Max Fisher, it depicts the WWE career of professional wrestler Paige as she moves from the UK to the US as she begins a very successful career. Over the past decade or so there has been a trend from some real-life stories that have been depicted in either television or in movies to be transferred into more narrative movies. However, the fate of most of these movies has been one of ignominy as the end results have not matched either the actual story or the documentary that came before. In terms of the comparison to the documentary this movie succeeds for two main reasons, the humour is kept intact in terms of the situations that the family of Paige find themselves in and the casting of the roles has been almost perfectly with all involved committing to their characters in a most serious way so that there is no winking to the camera or overplaying their parts so that they become caricatures.
The movie itself is set 2002, Norwich, England, where 12-year-old Zak Bevis is engrossed by the WWF (now WWE) King of the Ring pay-per-view event until his younger sister Saraya changes the channel to her favorite program, “Charmed”. The siblings wrestle, urged on by their parents Rick and Julia. Rick books the children for their first wrestling match where Saraya, initially reluctant to wrestle a boy, goes on to win as planned. At 18, competing under the ring name “Britani Knight”, Saraya and her brother “Zak Zodiac” help their parents train prospective wrestlers while working toward their own promotion. Rick and Julia, struggling financially, ask WWE trainer Hutch Morgan to sign the siblings. The two try out with several other wrestlers, he chooses Paige over the rest.
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant “Fighting in the family” is a moving movie with not only comedy but some very real drama as the main character Paige has to overcome a variety of personal issues as well as being a fish out of water in much of the story. Merchant who has made a career of lampooning many recognisable character types has also has the ability to pain these same people in sympathetic lights that illustrate the strength of character not the deficiency which is something that may sound easy but requires a deft hand. Merchant over the years has also grown to become a competent director who has not only written as well as directed many television episodes but also co-directed the underrated drama “Cemetery Junction” (2010) which follows some of the same small-town themes he explores here. What Merchant accomplishes with this movie is to place the characters first, letting their own personalities as well as the events that unfold tell the story not injecting his own motivations or quirks that he may have been tempted to do. This may come from the fact that this is a co-produced movie with not only the WWE, but Paige and Dwayne Johnson who all have the same goal, to tell a riveting, true story that also contains a healthy amount of truth as well as humour.
For “Fighting in the family” to work the central character has to be cast perfectly and to the filmmaker’s credit it has been, with the wonderful Florence Pugh as Paige, someone who has to come across as serious, whimsical, loyal and of course as someone who can really wrestle, be physical with men and woman, all the while looking completely natural, which she does. Pugh who has appeared in some very good movies as well as television is only on the up with her appearing in the new “Black Widow” (2020) as well as the new horror “Midsommar” (2019) is a gifted actress who on the surface of it is able to do anything. She is supported by Jack Lowden as her brother as well as the always great Lena Headey as her mother and Nick Frost in a almost straight performance as her father.
There would be nothing easier than to see this movie as nothing more than a diversion, a comedy that is broad and has wrestling at its core which almost is an excuse to ignore it. However, what that would ignore would be the heart at its centre which is not only real but based on reality. The ideas that wrestling, that is the rivalry as well as the outcomes are fake or at least fixed is well known but second to that is the heart as well as the physical toll that is taken has all but been ignored with this new movie those elements do come to light in at least a bigger way than other similarly themed movies. What I enjoyed about this movie is that wrestling is for all types, as well as accepting men and woman and that fans not only accept both but relish new and exciting twists on familiar themes, much like this movie itself. Of course, one part of this movie is that unlike many wrestling based movies this is not about men, it is about woman and their own growing roles in male dominated entertainment, it is about diversity, not only in terms of gender but as to what kind of people should be wrestling in the first place. Not only is Paige a kind of outcast for wrestling in the first place, once she starts training in the WWE she is an outcast among the women there, but she turns this to her advantage after some setbacks, dominating those around her.
At its heart this is a movie about a woman and her family that achieve their ambitions in one way or another as well as giving back to the people that shaped them. It also perfectly illustrates that in the modern age it does not matter where you come from it can be possible to achieve those goals as well as become a legend in your chosen field. This movie also arrives at a time when at the latest Wrestlemania the main headlining event was an all-girl bout, the first in its history.