Back in 2010, the unlikeliest of bonds were made between the bulking frame of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Britain’s own funny man Stephen Merchant after starring in flop ‘Tooth Fairy’. Fast forward 8 years and the pair have remained friends, reteaming on the real-life rags to riches story of WWE female wrestler Paige.
As a producer, this was Johnson’s project from the very start. Whilst stuck in a British hotel room, he stumbled across Channel 4’s ‘The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family’, a documentary on British WWE star Saraya Bevis aka Paige and her family and her big break into the flashing lights of the big ring. Lady Macbeth’s Florence Pugh shows her versatility as Saraya, one of the money spinners for her family’s Norwich based wrestling outfit. The family’s dream of hitting the big time lay on the shoulders of Saraya and Brother Zak (Jack Lowden).
Breaking the mould from the middle-class families that are usually portrayed in a British dramedy, this family is full of character. The normal Joe on the street, struggling to make ends meet; Father Ricky (Nick Frost) has left behind his criminal past and runs the World Wrestling Association along with Mum Julia (Lena Headey), a wrestler who never quite made it who named her daughter after her own stage name. One brother is banged up for assault while Zak, not only wrestles but also teaches a mish-mash of underprivileged kids how to work a ring.
When WWE Coach and head scout, Hutch (Vince Vaughn) travels to the UK for potential new recruits, Zak and Saraya go head to head for the much-coveted position. As Saraya is chosen over Zak the cracks begin to form in the once tight-knit bond of the family.
Merchant has stuck with tried and tested formula of the feel-good story but twisted into the humour of the foul-mouthed family, with some tough scenes for Lowden as Zak. He passes these off with convincingly understated mirth and misery – whilst happy for his sister he can’t help but also feel a deep set resentment, a resentment that she has stolen his dream, never quite getting to grips with the fact she was simply better than he was. Mirroring Zak’s own depression in the gloom of Norwich, Saraya isn’t exactly having the best time in her glamorous surroundings. Pugh not only shows her flair for pitch-perfect timing with her verbal ping-pong battles with Vaughn’s Hutch but flanked by model types who haven’t a clue what they are doing, she fails to fit in and her brooding despair comes screaming to the surface.
This obviously can’t be a Johnson movie without a little cameo, and as you would have guessed it, it comes with Johnson’s charm and blessed wit delivering an almighty smackdown to Zak and Saraya.
On paper, this should, in no way, be as good as it is, but due to its heart, charisma and likeable characters, this overly familiar underdog story worms its way under the skin to deliver a flawless body slam to the funny bone and the heart.
Fighting With My Family hits cinemas February 27th