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Every now and then, a sports drama will come along that redefines the genre, sets a new standard and inspires other directors to equal its greatness. Fighting with my Family is not that movie. While Stephen Merchant’s wrestling film deserves kudos for doing a true story justice, opting for a female-led sports drama and doing so with plenty of heart, it’s not aiming to be put on a pedestal with Raging Bull. Instead, Merchant’s gently leaning on the sports genre’s formula to tell the thoughtful tale of an underdog, whose fighting spirit and tenacious attitude serve as an example to anyone who’s afraid to take a chance on their dreams.
Based on a true story, this spunky, playfully trashy yet heartwarming sports comedy-drama grows on you as a girl from a wrestling fanatic family gets a chance to achieve her… no, her family’s dream of joining the WWE or World Wrestling Entertainment. This is a comedy, which is to be expected from Merchant who has almost always been connected with the genre as a writer and actor… apart from those performances in Logan and The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
Technically, his second feature film after co-directing Cemetery Junction with Gervais, he’s able to chalk up a feature film win without being seen as a wingman to longtime collaborator and friend, Ricky Gervais. Fighting with my Family enables him to cut loose… using his multi-faceted talents to create an atmosphere conducive to feel good moments and offbeat laughs. Speaking of “sidekicks” breaking out, he’s got Nick Frost to play the larger-than-life personality of Ricky Knight, whose decision to turn to wrestling over a life of crime sets the sincere tone for this comedy with some curious live footage during the closing credits.
Relinquishing second-in-command roles in Simon Pegg films, Frost is discovering a niche of his own in TV and film. Together with Game of Thrones regular, Lena Headey, who really deserves bigger film roles… the two play doting wrestling parents to Florence Pugh as young protagonist, Saraya, with the austere of Jack Lowden as her teammate brother, Zak. Pugh is charming and fierce as Saraya or “Paige”, who’s got the stuff necessary to make it as a wrestler (and film star). Her wrestling proving ground mentor, played with sincerity by Vince Vaughn, and idol, played by a self-deprecating Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, add a few extra scoops of charismatic Hollywood with writer-director Stephen Merchant even chiming in to bring the film back into the realm of British.
“Now you’re in WWE… these stunts will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you.”
Centring around a family who have chosen wrestling as their religion, it’s a spirited, offbeat and often fun foray into the world of the local UK wrestling scene and beyond. A funny screenplay, earnest performances and some great culture-clash laughs add up to an entertaining and enjoyable intercontinental wrestling movie. Enamoured by the bright lights of the WWE, bold Saraya moves overseas to pursue her family’s collective dream, finding the standard of competition and mental toughness of the sport to be a real challenge.
Charming performances, a nuggety true story and a fun spirit drive this heart-on-the-sleeve sports comedy-drama in spite of its cheesy entertainment sports heritage. Bright-eyed, winsome and full of pluck, it’s a colourful, zippy and lightweight film that packs a lot of sports movie formula with an equal dose of family values to rally behind the glorious ideals of “stick to your guns, try harder and reach your dreams”.
The bottom line: Spunky
Release date: Now showing
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Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling is 2Oceansvibe’s Resident Film Critic, a “thought leader” (AFDA) and “our generation’s Barry Ronge” (Brothers Streep), who continues to review, write, present, promote and adjudicate film for a host of websites, radio stations, magazines, newspapers, TV shows, festivals and events.
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