Pugh! Pugh!

‘Fighting With My Family’ Introduces a New Headliner

I saw the Fighting With My Family movie. A biopic of the WWE pro-wrestling champion Paige, a weird Goth chick from Norwick, England, the movie contains zero unpredictable story beats. Characters have their revelations exactly when you expect. Everything gets properly and happily resolved. The training montage takes place way too late in the movie, to a hideous cover version of “Taking Care Of Business” by Thunderpussy.


FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Stephen Merchant
Written by: Stephen Merchant
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn, and The Rock
Running time: 108 min.


 

However, the movie also features a charming and committed cast. Vince Vaughn has a lot of scenes as a tough coach with a tender core. He doesn’t exactly stretch himself with big emotions, but that’s hardly his specialty. Nick Frost and Lena Headey turn in solid and funny performances as Paige’s parents. Jack Lowden is exceptional as her brother, a frustrated journeyman wrestler who learns some tough lessons. Also, The Rock shows up playing himself, which is what he does best.

But the film belongs to Florence Pugh, your newest movie star. Maybe I’m predicting incorrectly here, but I don’t think so. Pugh dominated Chris Pine as the Queen of Scotland in that terrible Netflix movie about Robert The Bruce. She more than held the line with Michael Shannon and Alexander Skarsgard in AMC’s excessively long adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl, portraying and arrogant leftist actress in the 1970s. And she’s playing Amy in the upcoming Greta Gerwig Oscar-bait adaptation of Little Women, opposite Saroise Ronan. Here, she goes toe-to-toe with The Rock and Vaughn, and doesn’t lose the fight. She can do action, she can handle sentiment, and folds well into period dress. The girl has range.

Director and writer Stephen Merchant shoehorns Pugh into a typical sports underdog plot, like the kind Dodgeball mocked so viciously. Yet despite the very familiar and familial feel, this one only lags occasionally. Other than the montage choice, it features plenty of fun punk and metal songs. Frost and Vaughn drop plenty of good one-liners. A wrestling movie, after all, should wear its belt pretty lightly.

Fighting With My Family made the festival circuit a couple of years ago, so it predates GLOW. The movie lacks that show’s hipster sensibility, wild creative streak, and overtly radical feminism. After seeing Macchu Picchu and Britannica go through their character arcs, the pleasant Twinkies who Pugh wrestles to the ground don’t seem like much at all. But unlike GLOW, this movie is PG-13 fun for the whole wrestling family.

In GLOW, the gorgeous ladies had to learn how to wrestle. When our story commences, Paige has been in the ring for years, and only needs a little Yoda-like guidance to become ready for her closeup. The wrestling action feels polished, professional, and painful. And Merchant handles the gritty underground scene back in England extremely well, though it’s hard to take seriously a situation where Pugh and Headey, Queen Cersei herself, are considered odd-looking “freaks.”

This is a dorky British sports movie, as in Eddie The Eagle. Also like that movie, it features a legitimately working-class underground protagonist who overcomes high odds to achieve an impossible goal. Paige’s family is loving, committed, dedicated, and endlessly supportive, even through the toughest of times. Creed 2, featuring a spoiled yuppie who never really loses, could have learned something from this modest but fun little picture. And it certainly could have used Florence Pugh. Most movies could.

 

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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