Pro wrestling: the great fantasy realm that serves up huge helpings of spandex-clad soap opera, endlessly recycling classic sagas of good vs evil, betrayal and triumph against the odds.
Sometimes, though, the performers on this stage come from backgrounds that rival the (sometimes warped) storylines that wrestling promoters concoct.
Now-retired World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar Paige (real name: Saraya-Jade Bevis) has such a background, hailing from a colourful wrestling family that defies any attempt at conventional summarising.
So colourful that this indie-hued movie actually skims over some of the nuttier stuff you might unearth while researching the focal family.
Stuff like the mother-and-daughter in-ring feuds and mutual disowning, the full breadth of Paige’s achievements on the independent international wrestling circuit, and the actual roller coaster ride she had upon entering the so-called big leagues.
Despite its dilutions and omissions, Fighting With My Family does serve as a fine, funny and often-heartwarming look at dreams, disillusionment and the curious way family members can be simultaneously heel and babyface (to borrow some wrestling parlance from an ex-colleague) to one another.
Fighting chronicles the later part of Saraya’s (Florence Pugh) youth from around age 18, since it focuses on her successful tryout with WWE and the impact it has on her family. It skips her in-ring indie career from age 13 and quickly establishes that she is one of the more popular performers in the World Association of Wrestling (WAW), together with her big brother “Zodiac” Zak (Jack Lowden).
WAW itself is a struggling Norwich-based promotion run by their father Patrick “Ricky Knight” Bevis (a fantastic Nick Frost) and mother Julia “Sweet Saraya Knight” (Lena Headey, untypically warm and vulnerable given her current famous TV role).
In truth, it’s Zak who really dreams of making it to the big time and earning a WWE call-up.
When Saraya gets accepted instead of him, things become tense between the siblings while she finds the going terribly daunting – not just the physical demands but her own awkwardness that keeps getting in the way of her getting along with her fellow trainees.
Weaving in and out of the story are Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (a.k.a. The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, played by … Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), a fictional amalgam of several trainers with whom Saraya worked.
While Fighting is not short on star power, it succeeds mainly because of young leads Pugh and Lowden.
Pugh does a lot of the heavy lifting in the grit-and-determination department, and is especially convincing in Saraya’s clumsy attempts to fit in (you’ll share her pain through her reaction to the US fans’ initial reception) and then as she lashes out in frustration and withdraws into herself whenever those efforts fail.
But it’s Lowden who really adds the heart here as Zak copes with his crumbling dreams and seemingly meaningless life post-WWE rejection, which leads to the inevitable opening of his eyes to his real accomplishments and blessings (oh come on, that’s not spoiler-y at all).
Fighting does seem a bit rushed towards the end, making Saraya’s elevation to the truly big leagues seem so sudden it’s as though someone just waved a magic wand (OK, so Johnson did play the Tooth Fairy once, but still …).
Then again, in spite of such shortcomings, the film has its heart in the right place; and writer-director Stephen Merchant employs a good balance of cinematic contrivance and unvarnished honesty to remind us of the value of familial ties – perhaps undesired at times, but always needed.
Aficionados of sports entertainment will of course have a field day here, but with its misfit theme, sparkling (and frequently off-colour) humour and general geniality, Fighting will still be accessible to non-fans.
And if you’re not down with that, we’ve got two words for ya: join in! (What, you thought I was going to say “s*** it”?)
Cast: Florence Pugh, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Stephen Merchant