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Film reviews: Fighting With My Family

WrestleMania: Florence Pugh with The Rock

THE BIG RELEASE

Fighting With My Family

(12A) ★★★★★

SINCE 1997, the annals of British cinema have been littered with comedies striving to be the next Full Monty. That Fighting With My Family comes closest to stealing the title is remarkable given that, objectively speaking, it looks a bit pants.

In Norwich, a scrappy working-class family of wrestlers — dad (Nick Frost), mum (Lena Headey), goth teenager Saraya (Florence Pugh) and her older brother (Jack Lowden) — are scraping a living on the room-above-a-pub circuit. They feed their dreams by watching the huge US showdowns of the WWE on TV.

These two worlds collide when The Rock (as in the actual Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson) arrives in the UK to promote a recruiting drive. He’s unimpressed by the ‘Harry Potter rejects’ before him but his coach (Vince Vaughn) sends Saraya — who renames herself as Paige — to a training camp in LA. Can she fulfil her dreams? Wrestling fans know the answer since this, incredibly, is based on a true story.

As the end-credits footage of Paige’s rowdy family proves, their portrayal isn’t cartoonish exaggeration. However, the cheesy ‘underdog sports movie’ beats feel unpredictable thanks to a script by Stephen Merchant that delivers sophistication beyond the ‘silly people in Spandex’ gags. Merchant seems the last person you’d pick to make what’s essentially a WWE promotional movie but he imbues his solo directorial debut with all the dark humour and emotional shading you’d expect from the co-writer of The Office.

He’s not the only secret weapon here. Rising superstar Florence Pugh justifies her ‘new Kate Winslet’ reputation by proving she can nail comedy as definitively as tragedy, having turned heads with 2017’s Lady Macbeth.

The fact neither Pugh nor Paige look like they’re out of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue yet are forced to compete against the babes of Hollywood by a sexist industry adds a girl-power punch to proceedings. You’ll root for them both to achieve stardom.

Five minutes in, I was already smiling — and it never let up. This is a feel-good Brit comedy with a heart the size of Giant Haystacks.

The Verdict

It’s only February but this is surely the feel-good comedy of the year

The Hole In The Ground

(15) ★★★✩✩

THE Sundance Festival hype that The Hole In The Ground would be ‘this year’s Hereditary’ proved to be, well, just hype. However, Irish writer-director Lee Cronin still delivers unsettling creepiness by the spadeful with his dutifully generic horror.

An anxious, suddenly single mother (Seána Kerslake) and her little son (James Quinn Markey) are driving to their new house (selling points: old, remote, heaving with creaky floorboards and adjacent to a dark forest notable for a humongous, unexplained hole) when their car hits a weird lady (Kati Outinen) in a nightie muttering in the middle of the road. Following said incident, the young boy ‘is not himself’. But is he possessed? Or is Ma just losing her marbles?

A knowing mash-up of The Shining, The Babadook and The Omen, The Hole In The Ground strikes a couple of original notes but fails to cleave keenly enough to primal fears to get you freaking out any time a small boy with neatly parted hair looks at you.

The Aftermath

(15) ★★✩✩✩

WITH the Oscars done and dusted, it’s time for the final might-have-beens to straggle out into the cinemas. Enter this too-polished period romance starring Keira Knightley.

Like The Reader, it’s set in the turbulent German aftermath of World War II. It’s 1945, five months after Allied victory, when brittle Englishwoman Rachael (Knightley — all clipped vowels and seamed stockings) comes to join her colonel husband (Jason Clarke — excellent, if slightly miscast) in a bitterly snowy Hamburg.

They are billeted to the posh mansion formerly owned by a handsome German architect (Alexander Skarsgård) and his stroppy daughter (Flora Thiemann), who the colonel awkwardly invites to stay on rather than dispatch them to a camp. Tensions abound and, unexpectedly, explode as Knightley and Skarsgård’s characters embark on an affair.

Even so, The Aftermath remains a stiff, chilly adaptation of Rhidian Brook’s novel exploring guilt and grief. The characters’ dots never join up despite the intense efforts of the cast. In addition there’s something distasteful in having conflict victims used as a backdrop to an agonised, overprivileged love triangle that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.