Fighting With My Family Review — Studio Mandate

Lena Headey, Florence Pugh and Nick Frost in Fighting With My Family

I think I underrated Florence Pugh when I caught Lady Macbeth back a few years ago. I think because its complicated relationship with race stood out to me so much that I kinda overlooked her central performance. There’s still tics of it that I can remember to this day, same with her bit part in that Liam Neeson train movie The Commuter. She’s gonna be in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women later this year and I cannot wait. She’s a great actor, I think she’s incredibly winning in this and once again I’m not gonna be able to talk about her much because the movie’s got a heck of a lot of other stuff going on. Her rise should be meteoric.

Fighting With My Family is a film produced by WWE Studios and Dwayne Johnson, the man has his name first in the end credits for all of the one day of filming that he takes part in. I am not sure if they were involved in the project from its conception, or came onboard when the use of their branding became inescapable but their oversight weighs heavily on the movie.

They are very protective of the franchise. A closing title tells us that the lead’s advocacy in the corporation started led to them kerbing their more misogynistic tendencies. Evidence of which we do not see throughout the course of the film, hell the only misogyny that we see is her own. Pugh plays Saraya, a young women from a Norwich family of wrestlers who gets scouted by the WWE and goes on to perform for them as Paige. The full middle third of the movie, an extended training sequence, pits her against three supposed LA mean girls.

We’ll learn in time that these pretty faces are more than that, and that her prejudice against these very stylised babes is actually standing in the way of the formation of the sisterhood she’ll come to represent. It’s honestly like cringeworthy stuff, the most surface level, cliche take that you could possibly have on a fish out of water story. There’s even a bit where she puts on a bad fake tan and the Kate Mara Fant4stic wig in order to fit in. Stories about the power of being yourself that rely on casting a specific kind of otherness as wrong aren’t good no more.

I think Stephen Merchant may have been the wrong person to tell her story. You can see why he was attached, there’s a lot of it quite suits him. He’s got experience creating work that satirises the entertainment industry, and work that portrays the day to day life of working Britons. But neither side of it feels like it hits. Johnson, playing himself, has nowhere near the fun that anybody did on Extras, he’s got that image to protect. The working class stuff feels fakey too; cheery lads driving a bus around a council estate — saving kids from delinquency by teaching them to wrestle.

It’s not entirely Jack Lowden’s fault that my loathing of Morrissy is now forever tied to his face. He’s the lead of the England set half of the film, because the counterpoint to watching a talented woman make it is watching an entitled dude try cope with the fact that he can’t. It’s a drag, never really engaging with what it means to live a contented life rather than an exceptional one. Relief comes in Nick Frost and Lena Heady, whose roles at the head of this clan are slight, but brimming with compassion and affection.

They’re characters who we’re told have been through a lot. Lives of crime, drug dependency, an incarcerated son — yet have emerged the other side as better human beings. Their counterpoint is shown in WWE coach Vince Vaughn, a man whose dedication to the career has meant sacrificing everything. Vaughn is fine, and his part is followed entirely to formula. One cannot help but feel slightly bad that True Detective season two did not have the effect on his career that he wanted. This feels low rent for him.

Sure, the WWE connection gets them access to some impressive stadiums — one gets the sense that they stole all the footage they could before the audience came in — but we’ll cut from there to some nondescript training room, or backstage corridor, and all the character drains away. When the movie has a scene where an older man leads this young woman without explanation into a locked room, you shouldn’t be wondering if it’s going to make a very misguided turn. I guess that that’s the most clear sign that the movie doesn’t have a firm handle on things.

It’s sometimes really obvious about the way that it massages the truth, and sometimes you can just perceive the shadow. This claims to be a story about Paige and her family but, none of them were involved in the production. It’s a slave to the image of the WWE, a company that apparently can do no wrong. Corporate adoption of working class struggle is always going to feel wrong, and when it’s done so sloppily the propagandising is obvious.

Fighting with my Family is currently screening in UK cinemas.

Image courtesy of MGM

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