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Fighting with my Family

I love Stephen Merchant’s work as a writer for the original version of The Office and Extras in the U.K. with Ricky Gervais. He’s got a sharp sense of humor, and he wrote and directed this film, based on the 2012 documentary of the same name.

The movie poster is a bit of a bait-and-switch, as they show Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson standing in front of a family. He really just has a few cameo scenes, but they work perfectly as bookends to the story of a wacky family that runs a wrestling program in Norwich, England. It’s based on the true story of female wrestler Paige. She’s played incredibly by Florence Pugh, who was in the horrible movie Lady Macbeth from 2016. That same year, Vince Vaughn was starring in Hacksaw Ridge, and he plays that same character in this film. Just like his mean drill sergeant that grudgingly respects the conscientious objector in his ranks…here, he slowly starts to respect the heart of Paige. Vaughn did this same role in a much better movie nobody knows — Thumbsucker (with Keanu Reeves, Vincent D’Onofrio, Tilda Swinton).

Paige isn’t as pretty as the other female wrestlers, or as strong. Yet this is her dream, and she’s the only one of the new recruits that seems to have had previous wrestling experience.

Paige’s story would’ve been more compelling perhaps, if we spent more time with her family when she was a wee lass, instead of her training for the American wrestling NXT. It’s not that it’s not interesting to watch the women train. I just felt like I was watching An Officer and a Gentleman, mixed with a little Mean Girls and The Wrestler. Now, those are three amazing movies, and this doesn’t come close to any of those. It has all the sports movie tropes, but…it has enough humor and unique characters (and a terrific cast). That makes this an entertaining watch.

One of those characters is Zak Zodiac, Paige’s brother who also has dreams of making it to the WWE. He trains his sister and others in the neighborhood, including a blind boy who has little to do in his life outside the gym. Zak is played by Jack Lowden, a terrific actor, but he looked so much like Simon Pegg, it was distracting. It wouldn’t have been distracting, if his father wasn’t played by Pegg’s partner in crime in so many terrific comedies — Nick Frost. He’s absolutely outstanding as the pushy sports coach dad, who we can see loves his kids, but doesn’t always see the big picture.

Just as it was fun watching the smaller matches in The Wrestler, it’s also fun seeing local fans in Norwich, watching this family put on their staged wrestling matches.

In real life, the mom (played in the movie by Lena Headey), once wrestled while 8 months pregnant, so…it’s not just a cliche to say these kids were wrestling from birth.

When the WWE comes to England for tryouts, Coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn) decides Paige has what it takes to come to Florida to join their program. Zak doesn’t, and that creates the tension you’d expect.

It’s a shame that the movie is so predictable. I’m not sure what else you could’ve done with the story, but after seeing so many sports movies over the years, the cliches sometimes make you roll your eyes. And some of the phrases spewed out make you cringe.

“Don’t worry about being the next me, be the first you” is one of the things The Rock tells her. Oy.

Merchant always seems to disappoint me a bit on the big screen. A movie he was in called Table 19 was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Some of his small parts on screen work, some don’t (the last thing I recall liking him in was Logan).

With this script, he brought small doses of charm and humor to it, which was needed. Especially since most of society won’t know who Paige is, or anything about WWE wrestling.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the various training montages of the wrestling. We all know wrestling is “fake” but seeing some of the moves they do shows athleticism and tough choreography.

Speaking of “fake” it’s bizarre to have this underdog match at the end, in which we have a Rocky type of storyline except — no matter what happens, we’re not as invested in it because it’s staged. Sure, we don’t know how it will turn out, but…she, her coach, and her family, all do. That doesn’t make it any less fun to see their enthusiasm with her success.

My wife agreed with me on one point, and I’m not sure how Merchant could’ve tackled this (no pun intended). Once the brother starts showing his jealousy over Paige’s success, he becomes rather unlikeable. And after having tears in my eyes when he got cut from the tryouts, I went a complete 180 in not caring what happened with him and his girlfriend, baby, or future in the ring.

This movie is going to be a crowd pleaser, and you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy it.

3 stars out of 5, and I’m being generous.

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