Review Fighting with My Family by Jonathan Evans

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Let’s be honest, we know wrestling is fake, or at least scripted. But people buy into it because of the drama, conflict, and flash. We get invested in the narrative and the showmanship. Much like any other dramatic performance, we become engaged through the sincerity and all the flash and color just make it more interesting.

Fighting with my Family is another family drama movie about the pursuit of a dream but with the unique twist of populating it with characters that aren’t weird, but unconventional and rather rough around the edges. We open with a little boy watching wrestling on the TV, his sister changes the channel so she can watch Charmed, for this he puts her in a headlock, Dad (Nick Frost) walks in and does not break them up but instructs the boy on how to properly put her into a headlock, then Mother (Lena Headey) enters telling her to get out of it by herself. Both mum and dad are wrestlers and are heads of a local wrestling company, very low scale and just about getting by though they aren’t above doing some dodgy things to bring in some extra cash. Tonight they need an opening act so they get the kids to fight, she doesn’t want to but after they promise she’ll like it and it’s something for the family she does. While in the ring, and they are playing their parts and she hears the crowd cheer, she does indeed embrace the act of wrestling. Cut to years later and she has truly fallen in love with wrestling and is a screaming beast while in the ring.

Her name is Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) and she along with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) perform their family act in their local community center or gym, wherever they can, and get by with what they have but dream of the big time. They get others involved, Zak goes out into the town and brings in the local kids the be a part of wrestling, it focuses them, builds up their teamwork skills and keeps them away from drugs and other shady activities. He even gets the boy from the neighborhood who’s blind into the ring.

One night they get a call back from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) that they have reviewed the tapes they’ve sent of Saraya and Zak in the ring and they’ve been called in to audition and that could lead to training in California. 

Making two very announced appearances in the movie is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Small independent movies have a tough time getting made so they probably needed some kind of big name behind to get the financing. Being that he is also the producer why not give him a place in the story? As has been proved with his career in the ring and in front of the movie camera he is a force of charisma, when he is on-screen it is a delight. Both times he appears is for a crucial element of the plot so it is not simply inserting an iconic celebrity to simply make the audience that’s for fans gush but of structural importance to the narrative. 

During the audition they are assisted by Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) that is strict, to the point and easily throws around a few cutting remarks, but if they can’t handle this one mans remarks how will they stand to have thousands of people screaming obscenities and booing them? In the end, Saraya and only she goes through the next round. So she has to go to California alone, but she perseveres because this is for her family. 

Wrestling training doesn’t just consist of getting toned, they need to learn how to communicate between each other, what moves the other is doing and how to appropriately roll with the punches and get in the right position to take a fall or catch the other. If they don’t then one could break the other’s nose or even cripple them. Also how to start the match by talking smack to the other wrestler to get the crowd fired up and build tension between their two characters, also how to deal with hecklers. 

Taking on writing and directing duties is Stephen Merchant, most famous for being Ricky Gervais writing partner on The Office, Extras and other movies. He goes out on his own to make a movie purely that is his. Writing is definitely is the strongest ability, being able to structure a plot and infuse the characters with their unique voice and have one scene start as a comedy and then into a serious moment. He is able to make great use of visuals with the wide space of the stadium and some nice visual gags.

This is a comedy, mostly. There are some very funny moments in it but it also has deep cutting drama. You get to know these people and how they’ve come together through wrestling, how it’s redeemed then and they’ve hung their entire hopes and dreams on hitting the big time and to be denied it is one of the biggest blows they can ever face.

When the big fight came for the climax of the movie (which of course was gonna be the climax of this movie) I found that I was truly engaged in it. I knew that the characters themselves were in no real risk, these were professionals, but I cared about how hard it was for them to get to this point and what victory would mean to them. I was able to understand that it was performers but able to connect with the emotional journey happening and isn’t that what movies themselves are?!

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