Zach Gilbert’s review published on Letterboxd:
Fighting With My Family takes a cliche underdog tale and elevated it thanks to authentic, lived-in performances and biting dialogue from director/screenwriter Stephen Merchant.
I’ve never been a fan of the wrestling world or WWE events, so I was quite shocked at how quickly I found myself enthralled with Paige’s journey at the center of Fighting With My Family. The story itself is certainly predictable, and it does follow the typical “underdog” beats of these sports movies, but I can overlook cliches if there’s still enough richness to grasp onto with the performances at hand, and this film definitely delivers in that respect. Florence Pugh is an absolute star, channeling Paige’s innate ferocity alongside her contrasting and cumbersome insecurities; she grips you from the first scene and exudes this passion and doe-eyed innocence that makes you continue to root for her success. Jack Lowden additionally shines as her brother Zak, and the dynamic between these two and their connection to wrestling is by far and away the most effective thread in the film. In smaller rolls, Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, and Lena Headey also manage to make great impressions and complement the story’s narrative greatly.
Merchant’s direction is serviceable if not “outstanding”, but he truly succeeds in delivering a riotiously funny and surprisingly emotional screenplay. Each character gets nearly a hundred witty barbs, and I was surprised that almost all of these jokes landed throughout the entire 107 minute runtime. The jokes never overextend themselves or shoot too high either; they feel authentic to the characters and their relationships and therefore help establish the family unity at the core of the story as well. In addition, Merchant complicates Paige’s ascension to fame (and the typical beats that one associate’s with this well-work story) by keeping a significant focus on the effects her success has on her brother, Zak, as well. This drama works surprisingly well, and Zak’s arc is incredibly well-realized and well-performed by Lowden. Anyone who has lost out on a dream they’ve dedicated their entire life to and struggled to forge a new direction will greatly relate to Zak’s turmoil. Even with this attention, Zak’s arc complements Paige’s instead of overwhelming it, and they merge together in an incredibly satisfying conclusion.
You’ll know just where this story is going, but that doesn’t make Fighting With My Family any less hilarious or heartwarming. It features standout performances from Pugh and Lowden, and it manages to infuse a healthy amount of sardonic wit alongside the expected inspirational bits from the genre. It may not rock your world, but it’s a charming little yarn regardless.