Fighting With My Family Blu-ray Review

Wrestling was something I only vaguely remember from my childhood.

I recall faces from the American TV shows such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and the Million Dollar Man. The UK wrestlers are even more vague; there was Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks….and that’s about all that comes to mind.

Cinematically, my memory of the heightened reality of those wrestling legends was tempered by Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler from 2008.

Stephen Merchant’s new film lands somewhere between the two, balancing the larger-than-life feel of LA with the comparatively down-to-earth environs of Norwich.

Based on the Max Fisher documentary of the same name, Fighting with My Family is out on home release this week.

The film tells the story of the Bevis family. Brother and sister Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya (Florence Pugh) are both keen on wrestling from a young age, encouraged by their parents Rick and Julia (Nick Frost and Lena Headey).

Coaching local youths in their spare time, the family’s main focus is the pursuit of a career with the then-WWF. Coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughan) eventually agrees to give the siblings a shot, with a trial at the O2 arena in London.

Spoiler alert, the siblings are partially successful, in so much as Morgan agrees for Saraya to come to LA to take her career. The downside? Zak was not selected and must stay behind.

We then follow the familial fall-out of this situation: Saraya feeling isolated and confused amongst the beach-ready beauties in America; and Zak feeling jealous and depressed back in old Blighty.

To be honest, it’s not really what I expected.

There’s an opening scene where younger versions of Zak and Saraya’s characters are fighting, and dad Rick interrupts and tells them to stop. Rather than scold them, he instructs them in better chokehold tactics.

This scene is followed relatively swiftly by a classic trope: the awkward dinner scene, in this case involving Zak’s girlfriend’s parents (the father is played by Merchant himself).

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this irreverent and gentle comic tone would persist throughout. This seemed to be the picture painted by the film’s marketing material.

When Vaughan’s character picks Saraya and not Zak, the whole thing then shifts into a more melodramatic affair, with Vaughan evoking R. Lee Ermey levels of drill instructor gruffness as the wrestling coach.

The scenes of Saraya feeling the pressure in LA eschew any fish-out-of-water comedy, which might otherwise have been presumed, and there is an unexpected grittiness to the exploration of the impact on Zak’s life and how he deals with it.

And every now and then, Dwayne Johnson pops up to add some levity.

Both Pugh and Lowden cope more than admirably with the tonal shifts, and Merchant pulls off some good scenes as writer-director, but the whole thing does feel a bit unbalanced for my liking.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

July 2019