Film reviews: Fighting With My Family a funny and entertaining rags-to-riches tale

Telling the true-life tale of a wrestling-obsessed family who dream of making it big on the US circuit, Stephen Merchant's rags-to-riches comedy drama Fighting With My Family is funny and entertaining, writes Damon Smith

Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh in Fighting With My Family
Damon Smith

THE family that dropkicks and piledrives together stays together in writer-director Stephen Merchant's spandex-clad comedy drama.

Inspired by a real-life rags-to-riches fairytale, Fighting With My Family Nelson holds our attention with a winning combination of angst, potty-mouthed humour and sentimentality.

Merchant's film is a conventional underdog story, which traces a predictable path in the razzamatazz world of professional wrestling where muscle-bound heroes and snarling villains whip crowds into a frenzy with their carefully choreographed acrobatics.

A simple, heart-warming story unfolds during the glory days of John Cena and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson under the World Wrestling Entertainment banner.

WWE branding is prominent throughout a life-affirming second half set in sun-kissed Florida but doesn't obstruct Merchant from sketching his misfit characters in sufficient detail to mine salty humour from their confrontations.

Florence Pugh is instantly likeable as the self-confessed "freak", who experiences the usual growing pains as she vies to become a supporting player in a multimillion-dollar "soap opera in spandex".

Patrick Bevis (Nick Frost) turns his back on thieving to establish the World Association of Wrestling (WAW) in Norwich with his wife Julia (Lena Headey).

They fight as Rowdy Ricky Knight and Sweet Saraya and encourage their wrestling-obsessed children Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya (Pugh) to resolve differences with a grapple.

Zak and Saraya have their own wrestling alter egos – Zak Zodiac and Britani Knight – and harbour bold ambitions to perform in America.

WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) invites the siblings to audition for their dream at the O2 Arena in London. Zak is confident this will be his shot at bone-crunching super-stardom to provide for his partner Courtney (Hannah Rae), who is pregnant with their first child.

Only Saraya makes the cut and she flies to Florida alone with a new stage name – Paige Knight – to prove her worth against body beautiful rivals Jeri-Lynn (Kim Matula), Kirsten (Aqueela Zoll) and Maddison (Ellie Gonsalves).

Far from the warm embrace of home, Saraya is desperately lonely and she struggles with self-esteem. Thankfully, Zak boosts his sister's wavering resolve by reminding her that wrestling is in their blood.

"That's not good," she responds. "Makes it sound like hepatitis!"

Fighting With My Family is infused with Merchant's dry humour and he earns further laughs with an extended cameo from Johnson, playing himself with a twinkle in his eye.

One-liners are generously distributed among the cast including a scene-stealing Julia Davis as a strait-laced mother, who is clueless to the pomp and pageantry of the wrestling ring.

End credits include home video footage of the real Paige Knight and her clan to illustrate where the script powerslams fact and somersaults into the realms of crowd-pleasing fiction.

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (12A, 108 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn, Kim Matula, Aqueela Zoll, Ellie Gonsalves, Hannah Rae, Dwayne Johnson. Director: Stephen Merchant

RATING: 6.5/10

Released: February 27 (UK & Ireland)

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