Wrestling With My Family


Chilling in the squared circle.

(2019) Sports Biography (MGM/United ArtistsFlorence Pugh, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Kimberly Matula, Stephen Merchant, Chloe Csengery, Aqueela Zoll, Paul Wight, Eli Jane, Julia Davis, Stephen Farrelly, Hannah Rae, Theia Trinidad, Helena Holmes, Josh Myers, Thomas Whilley, Tori Ross, John Cena, Ellie Gonsalves. Directed by Stephen Merchant

 

When I first saw the trailers for this film, I thought it looked like a glorified recruitment video for the WWE – and it is. What I didn’t expect was that the movie would be as funny as it was and have the heart that it did. Then, I noticed that it was directed by Stephen Merchant, one of the co-creators of the original British The Office.

Based on the true story of the WWE wrestler Paige (real name: Saraya-Jade Bevis), it shows her formative years as a young wrestler (Pugh) in the family’s low-rent British wrestling promotion based in their home town of Norwich, the Mustard capital of England (we critics are required to know such things). She and her brother Zak (Lowden) have dreams of making it in the big leagues – World Wrestling Entertainment – and are encouraged by their ex-con turned grappler dad (Frost) and recovering ex-junkie mum (Headey).

When a WWE Scout (Vaughn) offers the two of them a try-out, it seems like their dreams will come true, but that’s quickly dashed when they offer a spot to Saraya – but not Zak. She’s loathe to go by herself but is eventually convinced to and she heads out to Orlando to the WWE training center there. Unsure whether she is living out her dream or her family’s, she struggles under the pressure but this is a movie after all, so you just know it’s going to end well.

Even armed with that foreknowledge, it’s surprising how much heart the movie has and that’s a tribute to the cast. Even Dwayne Johnson, the executive producer for the movie who recruited Merchant (who co-starred with him in The Tooth Fairy) to write and direct the film after seeing a documentary on Paige/Saraya in his hotel room while working in the UK, gets a little bit inspirational playing the Rock as an extension of himself. And, yes, the movie does seem to insinuate that if you work hard enough and have the “it” factor, you can come out of nowhere and become a WWE champion based on talent alone – which isn’t how it really works in anything, let alone professional wrestling – you still find yourself getting hit in all the feels. Yeah, it ignores the scripted nature of sports entertainment but nonetheless it will leave you with the warm fuzzies when it’s all over.

REASONS TO SEE: Pugh does a terrific job. Shows unexpected humor and heart.
REASONS TO AVOID: Probably won’t appeal to non-wrestling fans.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some crude language including sexual references, violence, and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Paige was forced to retire from the ring in 2018 due to a neck injury.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews, Metacritic: 68/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Peanut Butter Falcon
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Root of the Problem

Return to Hardwick


How we learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

(2019) Documentary (Gravitas) Michael Cudlitz (narrator), John Marx, Sherman Alpert (voice), George Jung, Raymond Eck, Leland Spencer, Gail Mailloux, Reed Phillips, Libby Morgan, Glenn Martin, Colin Mann, Roger Barker, Sheralee Barker, Floyd L. Carpenter, Laura Mesrobian (voice), Christopher Rice, James Root, Vernon Swaim, Karyn Senatore. Directed by Michael Sellers

 

They are called the Greatest Generation for a reason. They sacrificed, putting their lives and their comfort on the line to fight true evil. And they triumphed.

Now, they are old and slowly fading away and their memories of the Second World War with them. Daytime Emmy Award nominee Michael Sellers’ grandfather fought with the 93rd Bomber Group of the 8th Air Force, mainly based at Hardwick Air Base near Norwich in East Anglia, Great Britain. What had once been an air base is now mainly a potato farm. The few buildings that remain are in surprisingly good shape, although they too are beginning to crumble.

Those who live nearby, as well as the children and grandchildren of those who flew nearly 400 missions from there (more than any other group in the 8th Air Force) had formed an association to foster reunions and trips to visit their old haunts in Norwich and Hardwick. Local townspeople feel a real sense of gratitude to the group, who helped turn the tide of the war. They have done what they can to preserve what is left and put together a museum dedicated to the 93rd.

At one of those reunions, Sellers got the idea to make a documentary but rather than capture the stories of those who actually served, he concentrates on three children of those who served there – George Jung, whose father (a navigator) died when he was young, so he never really got to hear about what his father experienced in the war; Gail Mailloux, whose mother and father (who have since passed away) met at Hardwick and got married there, and finally John Marx, whose Uncle had died in a plane crash on the air base. So little information had made it to the family about what happened that Marx has spent years trying to piece things together.

Utilizing archival footage, still photographs and interviews with the veterans, their descendants as well as those who live in the area, to make a mostly fascinating documentary that focuses not so much on the big picture of the war, but on a particular unit involved with it. This really hasn’t been done before except for maybe with the Tuskegee Airmen, but it’s a good idea and should be repeated with other units that served in the War.

The only real quibble I have is that at times the narrative is a bit disjointed and done in kind of a scattershot fashion, jumping from story to story and into different time periods of the war. There is some context so you have an idea of the major events that the group was involved with but that is a relatively minor quibble. For history buffs, particularly those enamored of military history, this is solid gold.

REASONS TO SEE: Interesting stories from the vets, as well as some wonderful archival footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Produced with the aid of the 93rd Bombardment Group Association, which puts together the reunions and trips back to Hardwick for surviving veterans, promotes keeping the history of the Bomb Group alive, and gives the veterans and their families a means to keep in touch with one another.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Miss Bala (2019)