Fighting with My Family (2 stars)

Fighting with My Family

GFF 2019: Crude and sexist dramedy, inspired by the story of a real female wrestler

'Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?' bellows Dwayne Johnson in the archive footage which opens wrestling opus Fighting with My Family, based on the true story of Saraya-Jade Bevis, aka Paige. Her journey from the dismal venues of Norwich to filling stadia as a WWE champion is the inspiration for a comedy drama bearing the pungent whiff of a brand-awareness exercise for World Wrestling Entertainment.

Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) have been brought up to love a good scrap, with their parents Ricky and Julia (Nick Frost and Lena Headey) proudly pushing them into the ring. Saraya is chosen by WWE coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn) as raw material for a Florida boot camp, but she's unprepared for the pressure that her more glamorous competitors put on her, or the strain that staying at home puts on Zak.

Also credited as an executive producer, The Rock contributes a couple of lazy cameo scenes, but Stephen Merchant's first solo outing as writer-director (following his collaboration with Ricky Gervais, Cemetery Junction) is largely carried by the acting chops of Pugh and Lowden. Otherwise, the innuendo is crude and sexist, the characterisation shallow and the footage of the Bevis family shown in the end credits is far more interesting than the sanitised version featured here. Crucially, an early assertion that wrestling is 'fixed, not fake' hobbles Merchant's attempts to crank up tension around the climactic fight, which feels as stage-managed as the rest of the manufactured drama.

The end credits position Saraya's rise to prominence as some kind of feminist revolution, but there's no real context to the ball-breaking, groin-twisting action to bear such an assertion out. With a female character learning how to perform exactly as a leering, boorish, male-dominated crowd demand, success has rarely seemed so undesirable.

Screening on Thu 21 and Fri 22 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2019. General release from Wed 27 Feb.

Fighting with My Family

  • 2 stars
  • 2019
  • UK / US
  • 1h 48min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Stephen Merchant
  • Cast: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson

Based on the true story of WWE champion Saraya-Jade Bevis, aka Paige (Pugh), following her journey from dismal Norwich via Florida boot camp to the stadium. Pugh and Lowden as her brother are good, but the innuendo is crude, the characterisation shallow and the attempt to depict Saraya’s rise as some kind of feminist…