Florence Pugh stars as Paige in the wrestling comedy-drama Fighting With My Family, produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who co-stars in the film. YouTube

MOYES ON MOVIES: Fighting With my Family a sports film with heart

The Rock’s labour of love appeals on many levels, writes Monday film reviewer Robert Moyes

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.

Rating: ***1/2

Stars Dwayne Johnson, Florence Pugh, Nick Frost

Directed by Stephen Merchant

COMING SOON:

Captain Marvel

Brie Larson (Room) joins the Marvel universe as a superhero caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. With Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, and Annette Bening.

Captive State

There is an overtly political edge to this sci-fi thriller set in a Chicago neighbourhood that has long-since been occupied by an extra-terrestrial force. Starring John Goodman and Vera Farmiga.

Dumbo

Tim Burton and Disney join forces to deliver a radically expanded version of the classic fairy tale of the baby elephant that learns to fly. The stars include Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell and Michael Keaton.

Hotel Mumbai

Dev Patel and Armie Hammer star in a heart-stopping account of the infamous 2008 siege of a famous hotel in India by a group of murderous terrorists.

Hellboy

Pitched somewhere between a monstrous horror film and a jokey action-comedy romp, this reboot of the 2004 hit features Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) as an ancient sorceress seeking revenge.

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