Director: Stephen Merchant
Release Date: February 22, 2019
In 2010 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson starred in the smash-hit film known as The Toothfairy. While on set of the blockbuster, in which he plays a pro football player turned Toothfariy, he sparked up a rather unlikely friendship with fellow actor Stephen Merchant. Six years later Johnson turned to his friend to help co-write and direct a WWE story that follows the life of Diva wrestler Paige and how she became one of the biggest stars in the sport (yes, “fake” wrestling is a sport).
Fighting With My Family is Stephen Merchant’s second feature film as a director. Although he is relatively new to directing big-time Hollywood superstars such as The Rock, he’s no slouch. He has had a long career in the industry. From acting, writing, producing, directing — you name it he’s done it. Making his bones primarily in television, Merchant is best known for his work as the writer, creator, and director of the original British version of The Office. In his Hollywood directorial debut, Merchant shows that he is capable of handling a project of this size. Telling the story in a traditional linear format, he takes almost no risks with his style of storytelling. He carefully sets the foundation of the film by highlighting Paige and her family’s obsession with pro wrestling: Giving us the background information about how she and her brother were raised, while throwing valuable information about the sport that the average viewer may not know all sets the stage for the story. Merchant then tells the story in the same predictable way that we’ve seen many times before, especially in films about combat sports: the ups, the downs, the adversity, digging deep, overcoming, you know how it goes — we’ve all seen Rocky. Choosing to play it safe won’t make him an overnight Oscar contending director, but it will keep him in the game for another shot at directing a big budget feature film.
The story is a rather predictable one. Just by watching the trailer you already know that Paige and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) were raised in a household that does nothing but eat, breathe, and sleep pro wrestling. Both have huge aspirations to become WWE superstars and eventually get a tryout with the WWE’s farm system, The NXT. After the tryout, only Paige is selected to move on and her brother is forced to head home with nothing but resentment and jealousy. This dynamic sets up some inner family conflict later. The film then follows Paige’s ups and downs at training camp in Florida, while her family of wrestling misfits send good thoughts from home in the UK. The only thing that separates this story from other tired combat sports movie is that this is about the WWE. Our main character has the same classic self-doubt difficulties that we’ve seen before, only to overcome in dramatic fashion. It’s a classic underdog story which admittedly everyone loves, but it seems as if we get some rendition of this a few times every year.
What makes this true story one worth telling is the family aspect of it. Paige’s family members aren’t your everyday WWE fans. They’re the weirdos that are setting up Kimbo Slice-backyard-YouTube-style wrestling matches to pay the bills instead of knocking over 7/Elevens. They provide steady comic relief throughout and their supportive dynamic makes the more heartfelt moments really work.
Fighting With My Family is without a doubt WWE studios most successful movie since 2004’s Walking Tall, also starring The Rock. Being the most successful film compared to the likes of most early career John Cena films that only WWE stans pay attention to isn’t saying much. The heartwarming parts of this film aren’t enough to make up for the predictable narrative, comedy that is mostly shown in the trailer, and limited screen time of its superstar producer Dwayne Johnson. The Rock’s latest endeavor will be quickly forgotten about as soon as you leave the theater. Despite it’s “Rock Solid” rotten tomatoes score of a 91% (seriously how did this happen) it only landed in fourth place opening weekend at the box office, pulling in just under eight million dollars according to box office mojo.