Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Fighting with My Family

Dwayne Johnson presides over a sweet, funny and pretty much true pro-wrestling tale.

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MGM

Is pro wrestling fake? Does anyone actually ask that question anymore? According to "Rowdy" Ricky Knight, it's not important. Sure the sport's endlessly overacted fight scenarios are pre-determined. What counts, according to Ricky, is that "fans will know if you're not being real." There's a difference, he says.

Ricky is the rotund paterfamilias of a scrappy clan of bottom-rung English wrestlers who were the subject of a 2012 British documentary that has now been refashioned as a feature film by director Stephen Merchant, a creator of the original BBC version of The Office. The virtues of Fighting with My Family are unexpectedly gratifying, given its provenance. The picture was produced in part by WWE Studios, which not long ago gave us a film with the phrase "Robo-WrestleMania" in its title. It also numbers among its producers Mr. Dwayne Johnson, himself a wrestler of some renown before falling on hard times and being forced to take a day job (which includes a recurring cameo role here).

So this is not an exposé of a grim and tatty sporting subculture—it's not The Wrestler. Okay, it is a little grim/tatty in its early innings, which are set in Knight's home town of Norwich, England. There, Ricky (a double-XL Nick Frost) and his wrestler wife Julia (Lena Headey with cheap tats and wrecked red hair), are assisted by their kids Saraya (Florence Pugh of AMC's The Little Drummer Girl, still star-bound) and Zak (Jack Lowden) in running a smalltime training gym for aspiring young wrestlers, whom they cart hither and thither in their "World Association of Wrestling" van to mount exhibition matches for dwindling crowds. We quickly see that Ricky and Julia, who never achieved their own dreams of making the big time, are beginning to realize that Saraya, who's been slamming bodies since she was 13, has what it takes to go all the way.

Meaning all the way to America, of course. After Saraya and Zak get invited to a wrestling audition at London's O2 Arena by a WWE talent-spotter called Hutch (Vince Vaughn, back in deadpan-genius mode), and Saraya makes the cut but Zak doesn't, we follow our gal, with her goth-chick lip ring and black-leather biker jacket, to Orlando, site of a WWE wrestling boot camp. There, among the palm trees and sunny beaches, she fails to fit in with a trio of bikini-babe trainees who could easily pass for fashion models (one of them actually is that very thing). Saraya can't crack the stateside social code. At one point, after she dies her black hair blonde in an effort to fit in, one of the girls asks, "Did someone break up with you?"

Saraya is serious about pro wrestling, no matter that pro wrestling isn't serious about itself, and she writes off these three young women as T&A clutter. It's a measure of the movie's warm heart and endless good nature that Saraya is wrong about this: that the bikini girls are in fact sweet and supportive, and that it's Saraya—now going by the newly bestowed ring name of Paige—whose provincial worldview needs adjusting.

There are no surprises in this movie, I'm happy to report. In a moment of despair, Paige naturally announces a determination to quit her wrestling quest; but we know that's not going to happen. And while brother Zak seems to be headed down a dark road as his dreams of wrestling fame and fortune melt away, we know he's going to be okay, too. Will Paige win her first big match? Fans will already know that the real Paige did, in 2014. (They'll also know, less happily, that her championship reign ended last year, when her career came crashing down in a welter of WWE drug accusations, sex tapes, and a serious neck injury.)

This is the rare movie about working-class characters that allows them a generous amount of patient respect and waits for laughs to arise naturally out of their situations. (Or out of the documentary: Asked what caused him to spend eight years of his youth in prison, Nick Frost repeats the real Ricky's answer: "Mainly violence.") There's lots of ring action—clotheslines, piledrivers, all the usual mayhem. And much trash gets talked, too, most uproariously by this Dwayne Johnson fellow. He rocks.

NEXT: Reports Claim Jussie Smollett Allegedly Staged Hate Crime Attack; Police Say News Is 'Unconfirmed, Inaccurate'

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  1. And much trash gets talked, too, most uproariously by this Dwayne Johnson fellow. He rocks.

    Oh, Kurt.

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  2. What do you mean it’s fake? You can’t trust anyone any more.

  3. What do you mean it’s fake? You can’t trust anyone any more.

  4. Lena Headey with cheap tats and wrecked red hair

    Lol, those are her actual tats–she normally keeps them covered up for her acting jobs.

    1. Doesn’t mean they’re not cheap! Although, yeah, probably not. Thanks…

      1. No worries. And you’re right, they are cheap-looking.

  5. The timing of this movie is a bit unfortunate, considering everything that’s happened with Paige in the last year and a half. But she really was instrumental in evolving the WWE women’s division from the glorified fashion show that it was during the Cena era, back into a more serious wrestling exercise.

    1. She paved the way for The Man to take over.

    2. a more serious wrestling exercise

      Avoiding arguments such as ” more serious ‘rasslin” is an important reason to attend good schools.

      1. One would think a hicklib like Arthur would realize that most wrestling fans are fellow hicklibs.

        1. You’d also think he’d realize ANY topic can be discussed intelligently if one so desires.

          But that’d require him to not be a dolt.

          1. If anyone fits the term, “NPC,” it’s Arthur L. Hicklib.

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  7. The picture was produced in part by WWE Studios, which not long ago gave us a film with the phrase “Robo-WrestleMania” in its title.

    Simpsons Futurama did it!

  8. I like the idea that Paige needed training. Most of the people who go to the WWE’s training facility in FL have actually been quite active wrestlers for years. Most need literally none of the training but the main roster is rather loaded up and they need a spot for them to work.

    Even with a broken back, Paige would be top 5% of women wrestlers out there. Sadly for her, Almost everybody better is already in her promotion and, again, her neck is fucked beyond repair. Starting wrestling at age 14 is probably an exceptionally bad idea.

    1. so would 2 or 3 be a more appropriate age? asking for a friend

    2. The product overall is exceptionally bad now. The death of kayfabe, more than anything else, took a lot of the drama out of things, but that was probably inevitable after the business became a national media enterprise.

      Watch some of the old clips from the 80s on the WWE video library, and it’s embarrassing how dead the crowds are now, compared to how hot they were back then even for the mid-card feuds.

      1. Well, they also don’t allow anybody to really organically create a character, They lucked out with Becky Lynch, but not letting people figure out who their character is seems to have not worked at all.

        1. Well, they also don’t allow anybody to really organically create a character, They lucked out with Becky Lynch

          Even Lynch was sort of an accident. She’s always been good at selling her character, but going the “Stone Cold” route with her was completely unintentional and organic. One good thing about how that played out is that Charlotte is working as a heel, which she is FAR better at than playing the face.

          The problem with the death of kayfabe is that in the old days, you could run a Dusty Rhodes/Ric Flair style feud with those two that would go on for months, culminating in a WrestleMania/Starrcade type payoff match where Lynch wins the belt after chasing Charlotte for that whole time.

          You can’t do that anymore because the fans see Charlotte as old news and nepotistic, despite her being one of the best performers on the roster. In fact, I believe she and Becky were the ones who trained Ronda Rousey prior to Rousey’s debut.

          1. The women’s divisions on both Raw and Smackdown Live right now are dominating the productions and the ratings, and at WrestleMania 35 a Women’s Tag Team champion will be crowned for the first time in history. These are all positive things, and Paige has had a lot to do with it behind the scenes. Somehow lost in the shuffle right now is the Smackdown women’s champion Asuka (really from Japan, really does not speak much English) who is probably the most dynamic female wrestler going. So yeah, Paige deserves her respect for gutting it through her injuries and the embarrassment of that sex tape, sticking it out backstage as “Smackdown GM” and through it all putting together a women’s division that has done more than anything to keep Smackdown’s ratings up even as Raw’s ratings decline.

            1. at WrestleMania 35 a Women’s Tag Team champion will be crowned for the first time in history

              There was actually a Women’s Tag Team championship in the late 80s–the Glamour Girls, Judy Martin and Leilani Kai, had it most of the time. YouTube some of their matches with the Jumping Bomb Angels.

        2. Things were getting better in that regard until the McMahons stepped back in front and center and overtly took back all creative control. Both productions have been stifled since.

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