I didn’t intend to review this movie. Like we usually do, Dale and I went to Keystone Landmark Arts Cinema to catch a serious film. Unfortunately, Arctic is so true to itself there wasn’t really much to say. Guy’s plane crashes in the arctic. Guy spends two hours of screen time trying not to die. It’s a very well made movie; exceedingly powerful. If you’re in the mood for 120 minutes of despair, go see it.
With nothing prescient to say and time on our hands, we decided to see something low-rent, not for something to write about, just for the fun of it for a change.
And boy, is Fighting With My Family fun.
When a movie begins with the statement “Based on a True Story” you can bet the farm it’s not anything close to what actually happened. But, Fighting feels like an exception to this rule. The universe in which the story unfolds is so over-the-top, it doesn’t need any embellishment to be compelling. There’s so much going on with our flamboyant cast the writers didn’t need to invent scenes for either comedic or dramatic effect. Genuine eccentricity works just fine on film.
This is the point where I need to actually get to the review. Fighting With My Family is a film about professional wrestling. It’s a story about people for whom World Wrestling Entertainment is the ultimate diversion and for whom headlining Wrestlemania in Madison Square Garden or Monday Night Raw on the USA Network (preferably both) becomes their driving force in life.
Please! Do not run away! This movie is really about people. It’s about family and community, obsessive ambition, finding oneself, failure, love and reconciliation. It’s also about P. T. Barnum-quality showmanship, world-class athleticism, commitment and sacrifice. There’s a lot goin’ on here.
The Knight family of Norwich England operates a ramshackle gym in a blue-collar neighborhood that trains kids to become quasi-pro wrestlers and stages matches between local wannabes on the weekends. Dad (Nick Frost) is an ex-con and mom (Lena Headey) is an ex-junky dad saved from the streets. Wrestling was their salvation. “We’re a wrestling family. It’s what we do.”
What they do is scrape by on nickles and dimes. The family’s hopes for moving beyond a world of smelly sweat-socks and used jockstraps are pinned on Zak (Jack Louden) and his little sister Saraya (Florence Pugh).
I can’t say which/both/neither get their shot at the big time, but their quest is worth your time. Louden and especially Pugh are excellent. Their desperation is only slightly less palpable than their chutzpa.
I expect you know Nick Frost from his collaborations with Simon Pegg including Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, etc. No surprise, Frost is the film’s comic relief (“I did eight years in prison—violence, mostly”). He’s one of those actors who makes me chuckle before he’s delivered his first line, and he’s in his element here. I think Frost has a long career ahead of him playing the lumbering, slightly clueless, potentially dangerous, but goodhearted dad. He won’t disappoint.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, playing himself, displays the charisma that made him a WWE superstar before he became Hollywood’s go-to action star and a suitable heir to Mr. Schwarzenegger.
In reviewing 2018’s Stan and Ollie, I mentioned it was nice to be reminded of how good an actor John C. Reilly is. Here, I can say the same about Vince Vaughn. Both these guys have taken parts for the paycheck. Don’t know what either were paid for these roles. Don’t care. As a cynical, no-bullshit WWE talent scout\coach, Vaughn bluntly conveys the kinds of choices a person has to make when dreams don’t come true.
Fighting With My Family has taken some flack for being too cheesy and filled with over-the-top cliches. Seriously? A movie about professional wrestling is too cheesy and over-the-top?
The big reveal for non-fans is the repeated line “wrestling’s fixed, not fake.” Matches are scripted melodramas and outcomes preordained—fixed. Broken bones (and hearts), concussions, gashes, etc. can be real—not fake.
The morality plays that unfold within this mayhem are what ultimately matter. Good vs. evil, hero vs. villain, loyalty vs. faithlessness, young buck vs. old warhorse. Getting knocked unconscious just comes with the territory every now and again.
Is Fighting With My Family schmaltzy, cheesy, cliched, and over-the-top? Absolutely! Is professional wrestling hokey, contrived, cliched, and over-the-top? Absolutely! What’s your point?