Tolstoy was wrong. Happy families are not all the same. Individual families may share similar interests — doctoring, orchestral careers, say — but when they do, their enthusiasms are specific unto themselves.
This movie is about a happy family whose lifeblood is the entertainment/wrestling business. The story is formulaic and a veritable advertisement for the WWE but, for all that, feels fresh and moving and is fun to watch.
Here’s the set-up: Ma and Pa Knight (Lena Headley, Nick Frost) are the tattooed and pierced operators of WAW, World Association of Wrestling, in Norwich, England. For them, WAW has been a way out of dismal early lives. They wrestle, they train wrestlers, they stage wrestling events and they have raised children who are eager to follow in their parents’ footsteps.
Two of their kids — Zodiac Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya-Paige (Florence Pugh) — have set their sights on wrestling’s big league in the United States. One wants it more and is disappointed; the other, not so sure, gets a big chance, and, well, you can guess the rest.
There are family tensions, professional tensions and challenges to be faced, but there is no real break in family solidarity and love. Much of the film’s humanity derives from the Knights’ combination of generosity and vulgarity, which contrast with what American audiences have come to expect from hoity-toity British entertainments like “Downton Abbey.”
The movie was inspired by a television documentary about the Knights that was seen by Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, a third-generation wrestler and bankable star. Johnson encouraged this new, more slickly plotted production and plays himself to good effect. The scriptwriter and director is Stephen Merchant, who also is cast as a square whose buttoned-up manner contrasts with that of the Knights. (More family similarities in those two’s backstories, when you think about it.)
If you’re looking for heaviosity in a movie, this is not the one for you. But it’s nicely done, feels genuine and is well stocked with laugh-out-loud humor.