Despite being Hollywood’s reigning box office titan, Dwayne Johnson couldn’t get their blessing to make a movie close to his heart. So he secured his own financing and went ahead with Fighting With My Family, the true-life story about a scrappy working-class family in a small English town who had been eking out a living on a regional wrestling circuit.
A big break looms when Paige (Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth) and brother Zak (Jack Lowden, Dunkirk) get a chance to audition for World Wrestling Entertainment. But only Paige makes the cut, and as this 18-year-old trepidatiously heads off alone to Florida for further qualifying trials, both she and her family face unexpected challenges.
Sports movies about lovable underdogs are as ritualistic as kabuki theatre, and Fighting doesn’t even try to subvert the formula. But what it does do, and do extremely well, is deliver a profanely funny, heartwarming, and marvelously entertaining account of the hardscrabble Knight clan and their fanatical love of wrestling.
The father (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead) used to be a hardened criminal until he became a born-again wrestling maniac who starts a dynasty with his feisty wife (Lena Headey, most famous as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones). And two of their children whole-heartedly took up the challenge, nurturing impressive athletic skills while embracing the larger-than-life theatrics and wham-bam brutality of professional wrestling. (As someone in the movie puts it: “The fights are fixed but they’re not fake.”)
The transition from small town to big time becomes a body slam for both younger Knights. A jealous Zak nosedives when his wrestling dream dies an ugly death, and the harshness of his anger almost overshadows Paige’s struggles to face her fears as she tries to prove worthy of the WWE while finding out who she really is. But what could have been trite plot points are presented with real dramatic power, giving Fighting a core of emotional authenticity that complements the movie’s liberal sprinklings of amiably coarse humour.
Even though the real Knights supposedly had a few more rough edges than are presented in the movie, Fighting avoids portraying them in too cute a manner and makes no effort to sanitize the bleak, no-hope world of poverty they grew up in. Extremely well acted and deftly directed, this hilarious and heartfelt crowd-pleaser presents its tale of female empowerment with dignity and insight.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Florence Pugh, Nick Frost
Directed by Stephen Merchant
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