Movie Review: ‘Fighting with My Family’ Shows Us the Heart and Triumph Over Adversity in a Life Devoted to Wrestling

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CREDIT: Robert Viglasky/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson

Director: Stephen Merchant

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Bodily Sacrifices of Wrestling, Crude Comments, and Drunken Misbehavior

Release Date: February 14, 2019 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide February 22, 2019

Most inspirational sports flicks follow the same rise-fall-rise structure, down to every little setback and triumph. But it makes sense that audiences have never fully tired of this genre, because while it may be repetitive, it is rarely unrealistic. Athletics is one field of human endeavor in which you can explicitly say whether or not you have emerged the winner. And just about every champion, or at least the ones worth watching, has at some point felt like an underdog. The professional wrestling biopic Fighting with My Family does nothing to mess with that formula. But while wrestling may be staged, there is still plenty uncertain along the way, and there is similarly enough uniquely compelling and surprising about Fighting with My Family to make its allegiance to formula plenty forgivable.

Florence Pugh stars as Saraya “Paige” Bevis, who at the age of 21 in 2014 became the youngest winner ever of WWE’s Divas Championship. (As far as I could tell from the movie and looking up footage of Paige’s actual fight, this is one WWE tournament in which the winner is not predetermined.) Paige comes from a wrestling-obsessed family in working-class England, and she and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) have dreamt their whole lives of rising to the ranks of WWE together, but alas, only Paige is given the opportunity.

You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to know that there will be a happy ending. You just have to watch the commercials and have enough common sense to know that if Paige didn’t become a champion, there probably wouldn’t be a movie about her. But considering that it ends on a note of such undisputed victory, there is a lot of bleakness along the way. Figuring herself a weirdo outcast, Paige struggles to get along with the more traditional hard bodies among her fellow recruits, and the isolation she experiences in sleekly empty, oppressively artificially lit hotel rooms is palpable. Even more intense are Zak’s demons. He put all his chips in the WWE basket, and as he feels that dream slipping away, he quickly transforms from a chipper young buck devotedly in love with his girlfriend and happy to be a new father into the most resentful person in the world. When Paige ultimately triumphs, it is as inspiring as it ought to be, but because of those descents into darkness, Fighting with My Family‘s most heartening moments are the times when the Bevis family make it clear that they have each other’s backs, and that is why this entry lifts itself atop the genre.

Fighting with My Family is Recommended If You Like: Professional wrestling and the stories behind it, Rocky, Warrior, Wacky working-class families

Grade: 4 out of 5 Title Belts

This Is a Movie Review: Mary Queen of Scots

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CREDIT: CREDIT: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce

Director: Josie Rourke

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: R for A Surprisingly Horny Approach to the Material and the Violent Retribution That Results

Release Date: December 7, 2018 (Limited)

If you’re an anglophile who loves tracking all historical matters of royal succession, then you ought to add Mary Queen of Scots to your to-watch list. But if you’re more ambivalent on the subject, this film is likely to instead get you frustrated and shout at the 16th century to move ahead hundreds of years when questions of leadership have less to do with the intricacies of bloodlines. Of course, 21st century politics has its own problems, but Mary Queen of Scots feels obsessed with the minutiae of what was specific to a bygone era. There is some intriguing conflict to be had, as Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and her cousin Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) both apparently have legitimate claims to the English throne. The internal psychological drama and external tension of impatient courts and citizenry are present, but the same points keep getting pounded over and over.

Part of the problem is the film’s lopsided structure. It makes sense that the title is what it is and not “Mary & Elizabeth,” as this is at least two-thirds Mary’s story, if not more. Perhaps there is an element of correcting the historical record, or the cinematic historical world, as Elizabeth’s story has hitherto been told more often than Mary’s. But if that’s the case, then you might as well go whole hog into Mary’s realm and render Elizabeth more or less heard but not seen. As it stands, though, it makes me wonder, “Why can’t they both be queen?” Alas, for the sake of the narrative (and historical accuracy), that’s probably too pat and conflict-free. But it’s almost all worth it for the scene when Mary and Elizabeth finally meet in person. Ridiculous measures are taken to keep this meeting “secret,” thus fulfilling a promise to really examine the nonsense inherent to this state of affairs. It’s all silly, and should be treated as such, instead of resorting to beheadings.

Mary Queen of Scots is Recommended If You Like: Any and all royal British period piece

Grade: 3 out of 5 Heirs

 

This Is a Movie Review: Dunkirk

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, James D’Arcy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan

Director: Christopher Nolan

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for All the Moments That Make You Duck and Cover

Release Date: July 21, 2017

Christopher Nolan has established his reputation as filmmaker by tweaking the genre formulas of noir, superheroes, and mindbenders, inventing new dialects within pre-existing cinematic language. A war movie would not seem like the most obvious next logical step for him, as it would not seem to invite such inventiveness. But Nolan does indeed apply his puzzle-box approach to Dunkirk, and the end result makes perfect sense. The rescue of hundreds of soldiers after a massive military defeat is an attempt to impose order on a fundamentally chaotic situation, and accordingly, what Dunkirk accomplishes is a union of control and constant unease.

Nolan’s method of choice for dramatizing the 1940 World War II evacuation from the titular French beaches is ingenious, but it could have just as easily been a folly in less steady hands. There are three intercut portions: taking place over a week, the boys on the shore waiting to be rescued; taking place over a day, a mariner navigating his fishing vessel across the English Channel to provide support; and taking place over an hour, Air Force pilots clearing the skies to make the rescue easier. The order of events is accordingly difficult to keep track of, and ultimately beside the point. Dunkirk is about the overwhelming experience, as it asks the audience to simultaneously intuit both sustained and short-burst tension.

While the acting is uniformly solid, no single character makes much of an impression, unless you count the music as a character. The dialogue is perpetually difficult to parse: the accents are thicker than your average Brit, the constant dusk and frequent profile shots make it hard to lip read, Tom Hardy wears a mask. But it is Hans Zimmer’s relentlessly thrumming score that gets most in the way. A constant tick-tick-tick is the new BWAHHH. According to Christopher Nolan’s analysis of war, the fight to defend ideals is often cacophonous and rarely allows for relief.

Dunkirk is Recommended If You Like: Saving Private Ryan crossed with Inception, Their Finest

Grade: 4 out of 5 Open-Faced PB&J Sandwiches