Like many, I grew up being a huge wrestling fan. It wasn’t until my early teens (yes, I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed) when I began to question whether what I was seeing was real. Watching grown men take actual turns hitting each other for over 30 minutes, when a real fight is more organic and lasts a fraction of that time, should have been my first clue. Watching certain superstars rise from the dead like biblical figures should have been my second. But long after I came to terms with the fact that pro-wrestling was to be enjoyed like a live play with fight choreography, rather than a sport, I developed a love-hate relationship with it.

On the one hand, I still like the physicality, stunts and charisma of the players involved. On the other, I am bored to death by the storylines, which have been recycling the exact same tropes that I saw nearly three decades ago. To truly enjoy pro-wrestling today, you have to take these flaws on the chin. And in many ways, the same can be said for Director Stephen Merchant’s Fighting with My Family.

Like the best of wrestling entertainment, this British American biographical wrestling comedy/drama can be exciting, fun, action packed, hilarious and surprisingly touching. At the same time, the film employs plenty of rising underdog sports film clichés. Thankfully, Fighting with My Family offers enough good moves for us to overlook the tired steps.

Director Stephen Merchant’s Fighting with My Family offers enough good moves to overlook the formulaic sports tropes

The story tells the tale of actual now retired WWE superstar Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Florence Pugh), who achieved tremendous success in the brand. It begins in England, where we see that Saraya and her brother Zak “Zodiac” Bevis (Jack Lowden) grew up with a passion for professional wrestling, thanks in part to their parents Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis (Nick Frost) and Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis (Lena Headey), who are both wrestlers and promoters themselves.

One day, while SmackDown is taping in the United Kingdom, the Bevis parents finally convince WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) to give the duo a go. Other prospects also show up at the tryout, but only one person is picked to leave for America, and that’s Saraya, who takes the ring name Paige after her favourite character from the TV show Charmed. Of course, this leads to friction with her brother, who is devastated to be sidelined.

The performances here are really good, and do a fine job of selling the narrative. Standing out as a future star is Florence Pugh, in a highly believable performance as a mentally tough young person who overcomes her struggles to follow her dreams.

The performances here are really good, and do a fine job of selling the narrative. Standing out as a future star is Florence Pugh, in a highly believable performance as a mentally tough young person who overcomes her struggles to follow her dreams. She is charismatic and has excellent chemistry with the actor who plays her brother, Jack Lowden. Their sibling rivalry, running both hot and cold, is sweet to watch, and reminiscent of the family dynamics felt by many of us who grew up loving and hating our siblings. Other standouts include Vince Vaughn in a very funny performance that capitalises on the humorous writing by the director, Stephen Merchant. Of course, the film also features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as himself, and he is as engaging and hilarious as he usually is, though his role is minor and not as prominent as the film’s marketing would have you believe.

Although Saraya truly did make her mark by overcoming plenty of obstacles, Fighting with My Family can feel a bit formulaic at its core. Fortunately, all of the film’s main manoeuvres land perfectly, resulting in an event that’s worth the admission fee.

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 3rd, 2019