The director’s penchant for over-cooking pivotal moments with saccharine sentiment remind us Merchant’s talent is perhaps more suited to the screenplay than the camera.
An eccentric family’s true story is messily sentimentalised in Stephen Merchant’s heavy-handed comedy-drama. Fighting With My Family, the tale of Saraya “Paige” Bevis’s journey from small town wrestler to WWE champion, boasts a familiar route from “nobody” to “star” that betrays its unconventional backdrop in favour of sugar-coated grandstanding.
Despite a spirited performance from Florence Pugh, who does a terrific job bringing Paige’s self-doubt and matriarchal responsibility to both the figurative and literal stage, Merchant’s cookie-cutter storytelling has a predictability about it even before you consider he’s telling a story most WWE fans will already be familiar with. For others, the tired tropes will inspire internal groans while the director’s penchant for over-cooking pivotal moments with saccharine sentiment remind us Merchant’s talent is perhaps more suited to the screenplay than the camera.
His limitations as a director also surface in Fighting With My Family’s tonal imbalance. Some of its best moments are its funniest and care-free (a couple of which feature the director in a cameo role as a reserved, and probably Tory-voting, middle class father) but these similarly feel world’s apart from the film’s sobering moments revealing a real life story that doesn’t know what it wants to be on-screen.
Stealing the show (and the poster) is Dwayne Johnson. His presence is a small but significant one; the wonderfully warm charm of this powerhouse figure coming shining through. His lesson for Paige and her brother in the pitfalls and perils of WWE stardom features his sparkling wit as, on a dime, he once again brings to exuberant, charismatic life his wrestling persona The Rock. It’s one of several intermittent standout moments in Fighting With My Family that, unfortunately, don’t quite add up.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Stephen Merchant
Written by: Stephen Merchant
Starring: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, James Burrows
Released: 2019 / Genre: Comedy-Drama
Country: UK/USA / IMDB
More reviews: Latest | Archive
Top 10 Films reviewed Fighting With My Family courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment which released the film on DVD and Blu-ray on July 1. The film is also out on Digital Download.