Stephen Merchant’s new unassuming entry weaves the athletic and familial in a conventional, if heartfelt way. From a real story and splashy documentary of a gritty, though vulnerable young woman trying to realize her ambitions, that is bred from the ilk of The Blind Side or Rudy which became mainstream favorites.
His Fighting With My Family dabbles in the arena of professional wrestling (specifically World Wrestling Entertainment – WWE – based out of Stamford, Connecticut) through a clan in northern England, in the sleepy hamlet of Norwich.
Florence Pugh (very good not so long ago in Lady Macbeth and also on AMC’s The Little Drummer Girl) shines as Saraya (going by ‘Paige’) Bevis competing for a spot in the noted sports organization, as her loved ones urge her on even as she bickers with those who never made it in what they’ve been involved with for much of their lives; Paige essentially battles on their behalf. Being away from them for a while training in Florida provides motivation while testing her breaking point.
Her brother “Zodiac” Zak (Jack Bowden of the prolific Dunkirk) isn’t as lucky as Paige when trying to get into the program with decent skills, though a new father with her girlfriend. And, that will cause some friction between the siblings thanks to Vince Vaughn’s wise-cracking coach of the ‘Next Generation’ or ‘NXT’ having the guy’s best interests at heart. Vaughn evinces a tough-love realism, maybe antagonistic in the workouts, not that far removed from the likes of Whiplash.
The most prominent wrestling cameo is from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (champion footballer for the NCAA’s 1991 Miami Hurricanes, but better known as the semi-retired professional wrestler turned mega-movie star from The Scorpion King to the upcoming Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw) who is adulated by Paige and Zak. Johnson has his charismatic spurts (with a nice jab at franchise co-star Vin Diesel) though a similar background doesn’t emerge when it comes to less sagacity and more ego.
The coming-of-age and underdog tale intersect mostly in satisfying, reliable fashion as Paige gets harmless, but misshapen counsel from her mom Julia or ‘Sweet Saraya’ (Lena Headley of The Purge and 300) which leads to an edgy session. Enmity comes from rancorous distaff NXT personnel (dancers and former models) that’ll take a more bonding, tag-teaming turn as Merchant avoids examining gender inequality of the hardships of talented women in the sport.
But, as pat as it may be, Fighting often is more appealing when away the ring or the diamond as in the late Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own. Especially when the director (and writer) turns up in an amusing query where the hearth is. Hardly a cinematic body-slam of originality, the inspiration and affection is dispensed with sparring sensibility. It also helps to have a hoot of a dad like Nick Frost’s Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis.