Saraya “Paige” Knight competes as part of a wrestling mad family from Norwich, who run a local wrestling gig out the back of a van. This is the “pro” brand of wrestling, complete with fake punches, body slams and dramatic leaps off the top rope onto some poor sucker waiting to take the fall—the kind of wrestling that spawned the likes of Hulk Hogan and (yes) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For Saraya (the excellent Florence Pugh) and her brother Zac (Jack Lowden), the dream of making it to the glitz and glamour of America’s WWE hits a snag when the inseparable siblings have to split their tag-team … she got selected to trial, he didn’t.
This simple but true story is Saraya’s after all—it’s a classic rags-to-riches tale, a kind of Rocky story built on sweaty training montages and more eye-rolling cliches than a wrestler’s verbal retort.
Of course, no film about wrestling would be complete without an appearance from the aforementioned mountain of machismo himself. The Rock’s planetary sized screen presence orbits his goofy charismatic charm, sucking your attention with tractor-beam-like command—that’s no moon, it’s The Rock. So it’s unfortunate then, that he only makes two brief appearances (despite promo material suggesting otherwise). But hey, that’s one for each bicep, so you take what you can get.
However, as is so often the case, the film’s heart and soul rest with its writer/director. Here, Stephen Merchant (The Office) proves that he can pen some heartwarming moments and very funny gags for the big screen. Sadly, his directorial efforts don’t fare so well—he’s on autopilot and although hanging on tightly to his inflatable pen, he seems to be drowning in a sea of predictability. Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) delivers a rib-tickling performance as Saraya’s dad, lacing this film with plenty of feel-good vibes as he vicariously lives through his daughter’s fortunes. Beyond that, Fighting with My Family remains an entertaining but lightweight affair of humorously choreographed muscle.