Coming-of-age films are always about finding an equilibrium. There will be clichés galore that ‘might be’ unavoidable to project the bumps and troughs but it is in a screenwriter’s ability to find a balance between each conflict and each resolution that such premises take solid shape. One that belongs to this realm of cinema, director Stephen Merchant’s Fighting With My Family is also a biopic as it chronicles WWE champion Paige’s rise to stardom.
From the exteriors, Fighting With My Family looks like one happy story of a family that thrives peacefully despite all their deficiencies. Then I think, what could have possibly been unique in a 26-year-old female wrestler’s (rather) sheltered early life? One could have expected a tinge of sexism as the film presents wrestling as a legit vocation but it never develops. There could have been instances of racism (or reverse) provided that Paige makes her big move from the United Kingdom to the States. The angle is explored but not to levels that it becomes a major hurdle in the protagonist’s learning trajectory.
The central conflict in Fighting With My Family is, however, between Paige and her brother Zack who is presumably as good at his craft as she is. Merchant’s screenplay harps hard on the sibling rivalry bit where Zack’s silences during Paige’s ascent to stardom becomes the film’s emotional focus. A slight disconnect occurs in the fact that their interpersonal status quo does not find enough footing to base the core conflict upon. Instead, Fighting With My Family gives us a bunch of broadly written moments (not all are full scenes). One is where Zack refuses to be at the airport to see her off and another has him toppling her in wrestling game out of sheer insecurity. In a third instance, you see Paige chatting with her parents over a video call wherein Zack is seen in the background, strolling around with visible disinterest. The angle is one that we buy with full knowledge that it is somewhere a glorified version of actual incidents to generate classic feature film drama. Ditto for the rather sudden finale which leads to certain expected teary resolutions.
Among the more refined bits are Paige’s improving bond with her co-trainees. It is a very sweet outline of a new friendship which is an organic add-on to Paige’s coming-of-age – her shedding judgments and broadening of perspectives. Fighting With My Family also scores in the way the wrestling family functions with all their idiosyncrasies especially in this ever-so-familiar yet hilarious scene where Zack’s girlfriend’s “classy” parents meet them over lunch.
Stephen Merchant extracts realistic performances from his ensemble with Florence Pugh’s knockout act as Paige being the most obvious one. She embraces the deficiencies and complexes of a teenager en route to stardom while also getting the physicality of a professional wrestler to a T. Jack Lowden is his dependable self in a part that is a mere cakewalk for him. The supporting cast adds humour and glamour to the predictable turn of events and I also didn’t mind Dwayne Johnson’s sporadic appearances as himself delivering self-help book life lessons with a wrestling twist.
From a title that might as well be fit for a raging dysfunctional family drama, Fighting With My Family talks about a family that is quite the opposite. A biopic in the syrupy coming-of-age territory, the film is one that makes for a breezy popcorn watch but never really ups the standards of the multiple genres of cinema that it belongs to.