Fighting with My Family

Fighting with My Family ★★★

To invoke a culinary analogy, Stephen Merchant’s Fighting With My Family can be described as an overall thoroughly mediocre dish elevated by a stand-out jus spooned over a well-seasoned and evenly cooked piece of meat. One would think this should be enough to call it a successful culinary creation – after all, the meat is most often the star of the dish – but thanks to everything else that made its way to the plate, the bland mash and a bitter rocket salad, it falls squarely within the definition of meat and potatoes.

And that’s fine. Where I come from meat and potatoes are a dietary staple and it’s hard to come away completely disappointed with a meal of this sort. It’s fulfilling and somewhat nutritious, but one does not go out to eat at a restaurant to recreate what he can accomplish at home without breaking a sweat, which is why there’s a limit to the amount of praise I can direct at Fighting With My Family. Simply put, despite their best intentions, the combined energy of Merchant’s comedic timing and Florence Pugh’s raw acting talent are not enough to elevate this whole film beyond a veritable sea level of mediocrity.

That’s because – as much as it is based on something that actually took place – this story operates exclusively using the language of clichés. This potentially interesting mix of British kitchen sink vibes, underdog boxing movies and coming-of-age tropes just didn’t add up to a lot. Understandably, the narrative is assembled correctly, the acts are structured in the usual way, several mainstays of sports movies make their appearances and a crescendo is reached in a rather expected manner, thus giving the audience exactly what they came for, but if you asked me what was unique or memorable about this film, I don’t think I’d be able to think of a single scene, a line or a shot that drew my attention.

Therefore, the question remains: is it enough? Is the wonderfully unbelievable real story of a young English girl who came out of nowhere and became a wrestling superstar really deserving of such a mundane treatment? Could it not have been shaped into something more than a Wienerschnitzel on a bed of potatoes? Is it alright to take this material and shape it out of cliché Lego blocks? I think not. So, although the occasional comedic bits brought a smile to my face and I simply enjoyed watching Florence Pugh in the lead role, I feel an opportunity was wasted here to tell this bizarre story in a visually interesting and narratively compelling way.

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