Stephen Merchant wrote and directed the film Fighting with My Family not because he is a wrestling fan, and not for the perks of hanging with his new self-described “BFF” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (executive producer). He says that he was drawn to the story because of the family at the center of the narrative, a story that he knew audiences would love.
“I just was really won over by this family — by their story and their dreams and their ambitions for their kids to succeed in the WWE. It seemed relevant to me that [the film] wasn’t about wrestling. It was really just about family. About this young woman who wants to go away, at the age of 18 — 4000 miles from home — to try and live this dream for her and for her family. Yeah, I find [this story] very, very relatable.”
As I sat back to watch the film, I found that Merchant was right. Fighting With My Family will grab even the most uninformed on WWE wrestling and keep them in that seat following the exploits of Paige (played by Florence Pugh) and her family. The WWE acts as a vehicle to tell a story about the realities of following a dream and the hardships faced by both the dreamer and the family members left behind. In reality, things don’t get easy when you achieve your dream. In fact, that’s the start of some very hard work. And, you will need the support of the ones who didn’t make if you intend to.
A Family We All Know
According to Merchant, the Bevis family’s documentary is what sparked Johnson’s interest in them and eventually led to the movie in theaters now. The documentary also called Fighting with My Family chronicled the life of the Knight wrestling family in Norwich. One of the many things that stand out is how devoted they all are to the sport. They spend quality time together and no one is forced.
They are also the people that everyone wants to hang out with. In the feature film, we see that the friends and family of the Bevis clan led by Ian (played by Nick Frost) and Julia (played by Lena Headey) is truly diverse and all those “diverse” people are truly friends. Their Black friends (one played by Ellroy Powell) are comfortable in the family home, eat there, and seem to spend time there regularly. (NOTE: You can’t call someone your black friend if they’ve never been over at least for dinner or to hang out while you fold laundry.) All of the kids they teach and the wrestlers in their league are welcome.
This family and their home are where people feel at home in and that we want to visit. Something is always happening, but everything is comfortable and never rigid. There is actually a scene where Paige’s brother Zak (played by Jack Lowden) invites his girlfriend’s parents (Stephen Merchant and Julia Davis) over for a bite to eat. The hilarity that ensues is PG-13 for language (maybe older depending on the 13-year-old’s sensitivity to derogatory language) but opens us up to the story behind the family’s obsession with wrestling. It brought the parents together and saved both their lives. This is a notion that so many families can easily relate to, as Merchant said.
“D%$k Me Down and Bury Me Pregnant”
The dry British wit along with the phrasings Americans are not used to will have the theater in tears with laughter. That phrase, “dick me down and bury me pregnant” is one that both Paige and Julia say in the film, but at different times. It is an odd statement, but a funny one whose context is easy to surmise and understand. Other phrases are present as well, but they alone don’t carry the laughter load. Merchant’s ability to finesse a joke out of few words keep so much of the film from becoming submerged into the depths of the sports genre film. We never get a stretch of WWE jargon that isn’t punctuated by a joke or play on words. People who are not wrestling fans will appreciate this.
In several scenes after Paige gets to the WWE training center, she is learning the ropes, but her teacher is Vince Vaughn playing Hutch (also called “Sex Tape” later on — you will have to watch to find out why). Vaughn does not let the procedure and the jargon overwhelm and Merchant’s writing gives him plenty of space to play.
The script is a solid one that has the elements needed to hold the interest of the audience, no matter where they come from. It is alright to have no experience with wrestling. There are so many built-in little tidbits of education that it’s easy to follow along. The story is well paced and moves, not lingering too long on the depressing moments and knowing when it should shut down a joke. There is even room for a message or two.
The first and most important message that chasing and catching a dream does not mean the end of hard work. Paige’s experience at WWE NXT occurs early in the film. The reason is that the struggle is more important here. Sports-related films show the grit and determination of the main characters, but they rarely delve into the struggle that happens after reaching a dream. Similarly, the second message is that there have to be losers, but even the people left behind have a role in the dream. Paige’s brother Zak is allowed to lose and fail in this film. He is not rescued from that failure. No, he has to learn how to overcome it on his own, in yet another narrative rarely touched by sports-related films. He also has to get over himself, because the dreamer and the family need him. Everyone has a role, and life doesn’t stop for pity parties.
Fighting with My Family is a family film that will deliver laughs, a little education on the WWE, and a lesson in the realities of chasing a dream and learning to fail. Merchant’s humor and writing do the story of a real-life eclectic family good. He neither roasts them nor exaggerates them. The result is a family that we all can relate to.
Stick around through the credits for clips of Paige’s real-life family. You’ll also see that Merchant didn’t have to make up a whole lot of the dialogue.
See Fighting with My Family in theaters everywhere.
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Jonita Davis is a writer, mother, a certified nerd, and writer of Black Girl Nerds. Davis is a critic and journalist. She has been writing for 13 years about the way pop culture and politics affect our lives as parents, women, black women, nerds, and people of this planet.