I have vivid childhood memories where I’m glued to the television with my hands gripped firmly to the neckline of a raggedy-old t-shirt hanging loosely from my body. An immortal giant appears on the screen, his golden locks swaying as he marches down the walkway to a pulsating entry song that surges the blood in my veins. He maneuvers through a set of ropes and into the center of a wrestling ring where he and I tear our shirts from our bodies like a pair of synchronized divers who have trained our entire lives for this moment. Hulk Hogan was a “Real American Hero”. Kids didn’t just worship him, we wanted to be him. But, like most people, I grew up and put away my childish things. Yet, that couldn’t be further from the case for the Knight family, a wrestling-obsessed household that captures your heart in 2019’s first cinematic treat, Fighting with My Family.
English couple “Rowdy Ricky Knight” (Nick Frost) and his lovely wife Julia “Sweet Saraya” (Lena Headey) have raised their children Zak and Saraya (Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh) to be wrestlers and nothing else. Hosting frequent workouts for the local misfit kids (which includes a blind boy) and running their own events out of a tiny gym for a humble gathering of spectators, Zak and Saraya want nothing more than a shot at the big time. And when their gifted an opportunity to tryout for the world’s most prestigious wrestling league, the WWE, the siblings struggle to come to grips with the challenging realities of their futures.
Fighting with My Family isn’t a niche film only to be enjoyed by former and present fans of the scripted sport, it’s a wonderful blend of touching dramatics and charming wit. The story does come with a cloud of predictability that looms over the film, yet this issue is easily masked by a brilliant cast and legitimate scripted humor. Veteran funnyman Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead and Paul) headlines an array of hilarious performances that also shine when the emotional moments kick in. But despite Frost’s natural fluidity in the role, Fighting with My Family is most notably a showcase for up-and-comer Florence Pugh who completely body-slams her leading role. The audience embarks on her trying journey and it feels so real and authentic thanks in large part to this rising star’s fully committed performance. And the film’s dramatic family storylines help forge an effortless connection between characters and viewer that enable its professional wrestling backdrop to become a non-essential aspect of the film. In addition, I’d like to acknowledge Vince Vaughn’s strong supporting turn. After a dreadful showing in HBO’s second season of True Detective, I had nearly lost hope in the actor. But Vaughn truly leave an imprint on the film and helps cement Fighting with My Family as 2019’s early bar-setter.