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Fighting with My Family (2019)::rating::3.5::rating::3.5

Fighting with My Family takes the sweaty, spandexed bravado of professional wrestling and somehow spins it into a sugary, feel-good movie.  It’s surprising to find out this story has some basis in fact, and even more startling that everything works as well it does.  With its underdog heroine, tough-love mentor, and hissable villains, Fighting With My Family has more than a little Rocky built in, albeit with more suplexes and suicide dives.

The story centers on the Bevis family, a cadre of blue-collar brawlers from Norwich, England.  Parents Patrick (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey) wrestle professionally, but their overall goal is grooming their son Zak (Jack Lowden), and daughter Saraya (Florence Pugh), for WWE superstardom.  Their dreams come within their grasp when the kids are given an audition before a caustic wrestling judge (Vince Vaughn), but this moment becomes bittersweet when Saraya is the only one chosen.  Soon, Zak spirals into bitter self-destruction while Saraya travels to Florida and endures grueling physical trials, deep homesickness, and snarling, bitchy colleagues, all of which threaten to derail her hard work.

This could’ve been a crude and clichéd mess, but Fighting with My Family never aims for the low blow.  The script balances blue humor by making every character feel like an actual human being.  This is further aided by perfect casting across the board:  Frost and Headey are spot-on as the horny, rough-and-tumble parents who, for the most part, act out of real love and pride for their children.  Lowden brings depth to Zak, as he grapples with the fact that he lacks the unknowable, unteachable star power of his sister.  All that said, this movie belongs to Pugh.  Her Saraya has to grow comfortable with the person she is, and confront the intimidating potential of the enormously successful person she could become.  Pugh is so good, it’s almost impossible to not root for her character.  As the story’s Simon Cowell, Vaughn wisely rounds out his sarcastic dialogue with notes of empathy and affection.

Pro wrestling hasn’t been my bag since Hulk Hogan turned heel, so it’s a testament to this cast and crew that Fighting with My Family kept me hooked throughout.  Writer-director Stephen Merchant maintains enough dramatic heft to keep the story moving, all the while never taking its subject matter too seriously.  Family goes where you probably think it will, but damned if it doesn’t offer humor and genuine inspiration on the way there.  Even those who aren’t fans of pro wrestling will enjoy this one.

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