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Non-Review Review: Fighting With My Family

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

There is very little by way of surprises in Fighting With My Family.

The film is effectively a straight-down-the-middle combination of the sporting-underdog narrative with the working-class-kid-makes-good narrative, this time filtered through the prism of a young wrestler from Norwich who finds herself cast into the spotlight when she is recruited by the World Wrestling Federation. Along the way, there are all manner of trials and tribulations, many of them expected in a story like this; there is tension with those who weren’t special enough to be elevated, self-doubt about her worthiness for this big break, an acknowledgement that she needs to change herself before she can expect the world to change to meet her. This is all stock material, and it would be easy enough to map out even without a true story providing a blueprint.

However, Fighting With My Family is elevated by two key factors. The first is a sharp script from Stephen Merchant. The co-creator of The Office seems an incongruous choice for a film like this, and it’s remarkable how light his touch is. Fighting With My Family is funny, but not in the arch manner suggested by so many of Merchant’s other projects. The film is self-aware, but enough to coax over a cynical audience rather than going so far as to deconstruct itself. Fighting With My Family acknowledges its own tropes and narrative conventions, but doesn’t pick them apart. It understands that they are familiar and well-worn, but also appreciates that they exist for a reason in stories like this. It is a very delicate balance, and Merchant’s script strikes it well. It makes it look easy.

The other advantage that Fighting With My Family has is the central cast. Florence Pugh is a young actor to watch, quickly establishing herself as a tremendous creative talent through work in films like Lady Macbeth and Outlaw King, and she brings an endearing vulnerability and strength to the leading role. She is also fantastically supported by the actors around her, in particular Nick Frost and Lena Headey as her wrestling parents. Like any good wrestler, Fighting With My Family knows and hits all its marks with a little broad crowd-pleasing emotion thrown in. It’s as carefully fixed (but never faked!) as any wrestling match, but elevated by a smart and savvy script and a charming cast.

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