1 hr. 48 min. | Rated M | Contains violence, sexual references, and offensiv
Starring: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson
Since 1997, the annals of British cinema have been littered with comedies striving to be the next Full Monty. That Fighting With My Family comes closest to stealing the title is remarkable given that, objectively speaking, it looks a bit pants.
In Norwich, a scrappy working-class family of wrestlers — dad (Nick Frost), mum (Lena Headey), goth teenager Saraya (Florence Pugh) and her older brother (Jack Lowden) — are scraping a living on the room-above-a-pub circuit. They feed their dreams by watching the huge US showdowns of the WWE on TV.
These two worlds collide when The Rock (as in the actual Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson) arrives in the UK to promote a recruiting drive. He’s unimpressed by the ‘Harry Potter rejects’ before him but his coach (Vince Vaughn) sends Saraya — who renames herself as Paige — to a training camp in LA. Can she fulfil her dreams? Wrestling fans know the answer since this, incredibly, is based on a true story.
As the end-credits footage of Paige’s rowdy family proves, their portrayal isn’t cartoonish exaggeration. However, the cheesy ‘underdog sports movie’ beats feel unpredictable thanks to a script by Stephen Merchant that delivers sophistication beyond the ‘silly people in Spandex’ gags. Merchant seems the last person you’d pick to make what’s essentially a WWE promotional movie but he imbues his solo directorial debut with all the dark humour and emotional shading you’d expect from the co-writer of The Office.
He’s not the only secret weapon here. Rising superstar Florence Pugh justifies her ‘new Kate Winslet’ reputation by proving she can nail comedy as definitively as tragedy, having turned heads with 2017’s Lady Macbeth.
The fact neither Pugh nor Paige look like they’re out of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue yet are forced to compete against the babes of Hollywood by a sexist industry adds a girl-power punch to proceedings. You’ll root for them both to achieve stardom.
Five minutes in, I was already smiling — and it never let up. This is a feel-good Brit comedy with a heart the size of Giant Haystacks. It’s only February but this is surely the feel-good comedy of the year.