Fighting with My Family would be nothing more than a routine underdog sports story if it hadn’t been written and directed by Stephen Merchant, the gangly Englishman responsible for most of the funny things Ricky Gervais has ever said on TV. In Merchant’s unlikely hands, this fact-based account of a working-class Norwich family obsessed with American pro wrestling is sharp and funny, with amiable performances and an interesting look behind the scenes at WWE.
Teenagers Zak (Jack Lowden) and Raya (Florence Pugh) Knight, raised by one-time amateur wrestlers (Nick Frost and Lena Headey), both jump at the chance to audition for the WWE, but only Raya is selected by coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn) to go to Florida and train with other hopefuls. (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who encouraged Raya in real life, appears as himself in a few scenes.) Raya, whose Goth persona is at odds with the bubbly blondes she’s teamed with (all models rather than athletes), experiences self-doubt and flirts with the idea of changing herself to be more “normal.” Back in England, her brother sulks while continuing to compete in the family’s amateur league. It’s the usual believe-in-yourself sports stuff, in other words. But if the film’s dramatic elements are generic, the humor, especially in the first half, is buoyant enough to make it worthwhile even for those of us with no interest in wrestling.