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‘Fighting With My Family’ Review: A Lukewarm Family Comedy

From wrestler to the biggest movie star on the planet, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has had a meteoric rise in Hollywood. As well as juggling several different tentpole franchises and blockbusters, Johnson has also dipped his toes into producing recently. His latest production Fighting With My Family connects Johnson back to his wrestling days with a story about an underdog wrestling family. While well-intended, the result is a fairly formulaic and anemic family film.

Based on a true story, Fighting With My Family follows Saraya, a girl who dreams of becoming a WWE champion while putting on performances with her family. When she is selected to try out for the WWE, she fights for her dream as she discovers who she really is.

Fighting With My Family has been labeled as a crowd-pleaser by most critics (currently holds a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes), and I am sure most can get past some of this film’s issues and enjoy themselves. For myself though, the paint-by-numbers storytelling and lingering feeling of familiarity prevented me from ever being truly won over.

This film isn’t without its noticeable charms however, with the cast in particular shinning throughout. Florence Pugh is infectious as Saraya, breathing the character to life with conviction and humanity. The movie asks Pugh to carry much of it on her shoulders, and she proves to be up to the task even when the film around her isn’t. Supporting players like Nick Frost and Leana Headey are great as always, with Jack Lowden also making an impact as Saraya’s protective brother.

Fighting With My Family is at its best when its focused on its comedic upside. Screenwriter Stephen Merchant has  experience in the comedic landscape, displaying that throughout with quite a few clever gags. Merchant’s jokes thankfully are never at the expense of the characters, as he celebrates Saraya and her family for their unique qualities. The film is certainly made with good-intentions and heart, as Merchant is making a genuine effort to do right by Saraya’s story.

The execution however is largely too earnest for its own good. While Merchant’s offering has some comedic charms, its dramatically inert. The squeaky clean and generic approach to Saraya’s family drama fails to make much impact, not really capturing the genuine heart and identity behind these characters. The story itself follows the book of sports cliches that audiences expect to see in this type of film, with Merchant’s direction rarely diverting from that with much in terms of style.

Perhaps the biggest letdown with Fighting With My Family is that Saraya’s journey is left feeling largely unearned. While the first half is effective at setting up these characters and their world, the second half feels rushed as Saraya continues to climb closer to her WWE dream. Montages and contrivances are left to do the heavy lifting, with the end result feeling largely unsatisfying. This film is certain to please many, but its largely contrived approach left me wanting more.

Grade: C+ 

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