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Fighting with My Family
The WWF was huge when I was in middle school circa 2000; I am sure many a teacher got annoyed with my buddies and I mimicking the Rock's "People's Elbow" in class. Fighting with My Family tells the story of Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh), a Norwich, England, native whose entire working-class family wrestles. Saraya's brother, Zak (Jack Lowden), dreams of going to America and joining the WWF, but proves less talented than Saraya. Their parents, Julia (Lena Headey) and Patrick (Nick Frost), encourage their aspirations, and Saraya's persistence ultimately pays off. As she travels with wrestling recruiter Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) to the United States to train, Zak and the family remain in England, and Saraya realizes life on the road is lonely. The film's wrestling federation background elicited much nostalgia from me, and Fighting with My Family proved an unexpectedly emotional and well acted drama.
Longtime U.K. television director/writer Stephen Merchant's film came and went from theaters quickly earlier this year, but I recall hearing some positive buzz from the few folks I know who saw it. I grabbed this one from Redbox before the review screener arrived and had to adjust my expectations within the first 15 minutes, as Fighting with My Family is not the comedy I was expecting. That by no means is a criticism, as the movie is far more memorable and emotionally satisfying than the slapstick wrestling farce I was anticipating. Saraya travels to the U.S. after Julia and Patrick strong-arm Hutch into training her and Zak in Norwich. At the end of the British leg of training, Hutch cuts everyone but Saraya, who begs him to take Zak. In a strong scene later in the film, Hutch explains why he did not recruit Zak, who reminds Hutch of himself. Saraya wrestled under the name "Britani Knight" abroad, but becomes "Paige" with the WWF/WWE. Her goth style and personality clash with the models and cheerleaders recruited in the same class, and Saraya temporarily changes her look to Malibu Barbie to disastrous results.
Up-and-coming actress Pugh gives an excellent performance here. I believed her physical struggles and internal fight about whether or not to accept this opportunity that was both she and Zak's dream. There are some nice, understated character moments in Merchant's screenplay, like Saraya's ultimate realization that the women she assumes look down on her actually need her friendship. While she is the better wrestler, Saraya does not excel until she accepts her colleagues into her performance. Vaughn gives a refreshingly restrained performance, and steers clear of his usual one-liners and snark. Frost and Headey are great, too, and bring comedic levity when needed. From their prison-to-parents love story to the pair's non-traditional attire, these talented actors embrace their supporting roles. Lowden also excels in his role, and Zak sees his dreams of international wrestling success expire as he brings an unplanned son into the world and struggles to support his new family.
WWE fans know that Saraya/Paige ultimately became an important player in the "Women's Revolution" that saw female wrestlers taking center stage and drawing increasing fans to the organization. Whatever you think about professional wrestling, Fighting with My Family tells an interesting human story. When Paige finally shakes off the stage fright and declares, "This is my house" to WWE Divas Champion AJ Lee at WrestleMania, she begins a successful eight-year run in the ring, fulfilling the dreams of her entire family. I have said before that I am, with increasing frequency, enjoying films I view with few expectations the most. Fighting with My Family is one such film. I expected a slapstick wrestling comedy and got an effective drama with comedic elements, many of which come via the Rock's extended cameo. You need not be a professional wrestling fan to enjoy Fighting with My Family, and I look forward to seeing where Merchant and Pugh go from here.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is digitally sourced, and remains consistently clear and sharp throughout. Skin tones are natural, colors nicely saturated and black levels reasonably deep. The image displays appropriate depth and object texture, and the film looks great in motion. Other than some minor digital noise, this is an excellent transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix gets the job done with solid ambience and effects panning. Dialogue is clear and clean when delivered from the center channel or from the surrounds. Ambient crowd noise, microphone reverb and gym clamor surround the viewer, and the film's soundtrack is given room to breathe into the surrounds. A French 5.1 DTS dub is included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
The two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD and HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The Blu-ray offers both the theatrical cut of the film (1:48:28) and a director's cut (1:48:25), which only differ in a few lines of dialogue. Extras include Deleted and Extended Scenes (8:53 total/HD); a Gag Reel (2:42/HD); A Family's Passion: A Making-Of (8:53/HD); Learning the Moves (3:18/HD); and an Audio Commentary from Writer/Director Stephen Merchant.
Whether or not you enjoy professional wrestling, Fighting with My Family tells an interesting human story about WWE wrestler Paige, who hails from Norwich, England, and a family of wrestlers, and offers strong performances from Florence Pugh, Vince Vaughn and others. The Blu-ray offers good picture and sound and a few extras. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.