FilmSpace at Glasgow Film Festival: Fighting With My Family, A Faithful Man, Only You

FilmSpace is at the 15th Glasgow Film Festival, bringing a series of reviews on loads of new films. Film critic Scott Wilson reviews a feel-good family story, a “very French” film of competing affections, and a Glasgow-based romance with two stunning lead performances. 

Fighting With My Family – ★★★★☆

Fighting With My Family – based on the Channel 4 documentary of the same name – follows young Saraya Bevis from a council estate in Norwich as she and her brother try to make it to the WWE. They come from a wrestling family, their mum and dad both having turned their lives around after finding the sport and each other.

Saraya – or Paige, as she becomes known as – doesn’t look like the other female hopefuls at try-outs. Pale and goth, she’s a misfit beside former models and dancers, perfectly tanned and ninety percent leg.

Paige’s differences are a force for good, in the film’s eyes. When a group of girls bully her in the street, it brings to mind Sophie Lancaster, a young woman targeted for being a part of the goth subculture. Rather than shy away, the film believes in otherness, and how it can be used to nurture a creative spark that can set performers in the wrestling industry – or any industry – apart.

That heart makes it accessible to those without the slightest interest in wrestling. This is an underdog story that would still work even without its real-life source material. Transported from her humble beginnings to Florida, Paige has to wrestle (sorry) with her love of the sport while missing her family thousands of miles away, a divide felt particularly by those left behind. It’s a film unafraid to ask questions of what it means to be successful, and what it means when you reach the end of the line.

There is stuff here for the diehards too. Funded in part by the WWE themselves, the film was able to access their weekly TV sets, so there are no awkward allusions; this is the real thing. The terminology is here – getting ‘over’ with the crowd, talk of ‘heels’ and ‘babyfaces’ – all of which was secretive until just twenty years ago, when suggesting it was all fixed was a legitimate cause for excommunication. An iconic match is restaged, which comes off as cheesy for those who are familiar with the real event, and some important moments are glossed over, such as Paige’s time in NXT. But, similar to a biopic, if the films wins people over who are unfamiliar with the story, there is plenty more to be discovered.

With Stephen Merchant at the helm in his directorial debut, the wit is sharp, the tone is universally welcoming, and the characters, although real already, feel human. Given that the WWE is a soap opera in spandex, it lends itself well to a story like this, of a working class girl dreaming of wrestling in the squared circle. Florence Pugh is one of the screen’s brightest young stars, Jack Lowden continues to impress with a varied bunch of roles, and Nick Frost and Lena Heady as their parents have perfect comic timing as two passionate people for whom wrestling is everything. It’s the cast that keep it grounded, making Fighting With My Family a feel-good film for everyone, regardless of interest in professional wrestling.

A Faithful Man – ★★★☆☆

Introduced by Allison Gardner, the film festival’s co-director, as “very French”, A Faithful Man follows a young man called Abel trying to make sense of love. It begins with his partner, Marianne, telling him she is pregnant, but the baby isn’t his so he has ten days to move out. Fast-forward almost ten years and Marianne’s partner, Paul, has died. At his funeral, Abel wonders if Marianne is thinking of him.

Its absurdities are played straight, so when Abel is abruptly asked to move out, it’s not immediately clear if it’s comic or tragic. By the time Marianne’s son is recording her and Abel’s interactions and letting Eve, Paul’s sister who is infatuated with Abel, listen to the audio, the melodrama is obvious, laughs are welcome.

All of the characters act on impulse, entertaining ideas that deserve more time to form. With love and infatuation aimed in every direction, everyone submits to the worst course of action possible. Abel is a cause of frustration, but is often at the mercy of everyone around him, blindly following whatever Marianne and Eve, and even Marianne’s son, say. He entertains the notion that Marianne killed Paul for a little too long, caught up by her son’s insistence. 

Written, directed, and starring Louis Garrel as Abel, the film’s playfulness excuses some narcissism – one character declares him the most attractive man they’ve ever seen. It fits the character and the silliness.

But there is some meat on its bones. Marianne believes she would lose the war against Eve for Abel’s affection. It’s a small indication of the reality beneath the melodrama, that these characters are playing risky games with plenty to lose. The more characters are able to achieve their desires, the more they realise they’re much more appealing when they remain unattainable. And – while it ain’t something to aspire to here – it treats the fluidity of relationships as normal, providing a space for characters to act without a second thought. Tres bien.

Only You – ★★★★☆

On Hogmanay, Elena heads home from a party while bickering with a younger man about hailing a taxi on Sauchiehall Street. They decide to share the ride, his name is Jake, and they end up back at her place, dancing to her dad’s records.

Initially hesitant because of the age gap – she’s 35, he’s 26 – they fall into a relationship, Jake slowly moving in with her by never going home. Visiting his flat to pick up his stuff, he says he owns so few things because “I like to fit my life into a suitcase”. It’s the kind of line that can make eyeballs roll back into their sockets, but his youthfulness is mature and sincere. He is willing for life to take him wherever it may, and commit to the decision.

Laia Costa and Josh O’Connor have both had starring turns in the last few years, Costa in Victoria and O’Connor in God’s Own Country. Only You hinges on their chemistry, centred on two very physical performances – playful and tender teasing; punching walls in frustration. When filming, the two actors wrote notes to each other, mirroring the mood of their characters on that day. Over a fortnight shooting in a Finnieston flat, these notes turned from excited and warm to tense, and O’Connor even forgot to write back one day. The electricity of falling in love is matched by the frustration when they are not on the same page.

Their starry-eyed beginning transforms into something more mature and thoughtful as Jake sees Elena holding a friend’s new-born and decides they should have a baby. Proving to be difficult for them both, the segue between something idealistic to something peppered with tension happens almost invisibly. It’s as if the film believes so much in love that it wants audiences to go through the difficult parts to highlight how important perseverance is.

There’s a charm to anything that’s Glasgow based and geographically accurate too. Elena works at the CCA, her flat and the buses she rides are in the Finnieston area, Jake lives near the instantly recognisable Gardener Street. While we are used to London and New York City on the big screen, seeing Glasgow is still a novelty and, for those of us familiar with it, we are able to imagine Elena and Jake among the city’s population. It’s a place crackling with potential, and following this couple’s ups and downs feels fitting in a city with so much wonder that’s often happening behind closed doors or tucked away.  

As Elena opts for IVF and Jake’s frustrations – resentment, even – build, Only You wants to weigh up the idea of soul mates versus the world’s realities. Times get hard, but maybe, with the right person, they are worth fighting for.

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