The world of professional wrestling can be a pretty misunderstood, and often maligned industry from an outsider’s perspective. A strange world of larger than life characters throwing each other around a ring in orchestrated matches with pre-ordained outcomes often stands out as the principle point of contention. In truth it’s just another expression of soap opera, just ramped up and even more outrageous. Needless to say – other than in documentary form – it’s been largely overlooked as a valid subject/art form to put to film. Fighting With My Family however, goes behind the scenes to tell the story of a wrestling family who sacrifice everything for their passion, and their daughter who made good on their strivings and ambitions.
The film follows the Knight family running their small wrestling promotion in Norwich. Playing small school halls and working mens clubs, their two children, Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya (Florence Pugh), dream of climbing the ladder to the zenith of their sport: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The dream of following in the footsteps of their childhood idols becomes a reality when the company invite them both to tryout at a pay-per-view event in London. Unfortunately, they are separated when only Saraya gets selected. Her adventures and challenges begin when she is flown out to Florida for the WWE’s intense training camp.
The story becomes about so much more than just wrestling though, it’s a film about family, sibling love and rivalry, fitting in and seizing opportunities. What on the surface might seem like a story about a form of entertainment that many have no interest in, is in truth much deeper and heartfelt than that. It’s got a pretty universal message running through its core about relationships, family connection, chasing dreams and the challenges of being separated from loved ones. Through his writing and direction, Stephen Merchant has brought these elements together and unites them with his recognisable blend of humour and humanity. The end result is a film that is surprisingly touching.
Making this workable relies on good writing, but equally good casting. Striking a balance between humour and the more sincere elements requires a cast that can tread that divide delicately. Presenting the right amount of poignancy alongside the comedy is a key blend that needs to work seamlessly.
Combining actors from predominantly comedic backgrounds – such as Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and Stephen Merchant himself – with more traditional actors – Lena Headey and Jack Lowden – makes for a much stronger dramatic hybrid amalgamation. Throw in the charismatic presence of Dwayne Johnson – playing both primary facets of his career: actor and wrestler – alongside the exciting up and coming talent of Florence Pugh and you have the healthy blend of styles and voices that hold this story together so well.
As with most dramas with a strong comedic bent, it treads a fine line between serious and outlandish. It’s not always the easiest blend to get right, fortunately this film – for the most part – finds the balance nicely. To a British audience, the film carries an additionally familiar feel in its capturing of ordinary council estate life in an average British city. That distinctly British atmosphere and its culture clashes with Floridian/American life for a girl very much out of her familiar world is all captured with a touching honesty beyond my expectations of this film
In truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film going in; I grew up enjoying wrestling, so there was always a sense that I would enjoy it nostalgically at the very least, but it was a much more pleasant surprise than just that. It was genuinely enjoyable on its own merits, regardless of my wrestling memories. The solid performances throughout, a script that works well and plenty of wrestling scenes and references throughout – plus a few guest spots – make this a crowd pleaser whatever interest level you come into this with. Fighting With My Family is an enjoyable film on a number of levels and above all, it’s just a genuinely entertaining viewing experience.