I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Comic actor Jessica Hynes makes an astonishing directorial debut with The Fight, an unpin-down-able little movie that is disconcerting on many levels… perhaps the first of which is that Hynes, who also stars, isn’t funny in it. (Hynes also wrote The Fight’s script; she’s written lots of stuff before, perhaps most notably the 1999–2001 sitcom Spaced, one of the best TV shows ever made, in which she starred with her cowriter, Simon Pegg; this was back when she was known as Jessica Stevenson.) For this is a movie about anger and resentment, and not in any light or easily dismissable way; it’s about how negative emotion festers, how it gets perpetuated, how it eats you up. Movies are often subtextually about such things; see: every action movie with a stoic yet wrathful male protagonist out for vengeance. The Fight, on the other hand, is that rarest of cinematic beasts: a movie overtly about women’s anger. Which you’d hardly ever know was a thing, if you were studying humanity from our pop culture.
Hynes gives a woman’s anger full-throated but down-to-earth voice here as Tina, a working-class wife and mother in a British seaside town. She barely sees her husband, Mick (Shaun Parkes: Urban Hymn, Notes on a Scandal), because he works nights while she works days, as an in-home carer for elderly people. Her oldest daughter, teen Emma (Sennia Nanua: The Girl with All the Gifts), is being bullied at school… and when Tina learns that Emma’s bully, Jordan (Liv Hill: The Little Stranger), is the daughter of a woman, Amanda (Rhona Mitra: The Loft, The Number 23), from Tina’s own school days, it ignites some unpleasant memories of her own adolescence. (Her five-year-old son is an unruly little monster; even getting him dressed for school is an impossible challenge.) Her relationship with her parents (Anita Dobson [London Road] and Christopher Fairbank [Lady Macbeth, Doctor Who]) is strained, and getting worse.
Basically, Tina is barely holding herself together from stress, worry, and exhaustion. In one stunning scene, she rages at her husband, begging for his help with everything, and he still doesn’t seem to appreciate how precarious her footing is. We hardly ever see stuff like this onscreen — Tully did something like this recently, though it’s the only other example that springs to mind — and it is so refreshing and so gratifying. It’s so necessary. Bravo to Hynes for the vulnerability she puts on such biting display, in her every capacity as storyteller onscreen and behind the camera… and also for not condoning or excusing Tina’s own bullshit. The no-fucks-given rawness of The Fight is exhilarating.
The title of the film, at first glance, seems to refer to the fact that Tina uses boxing as a way to cope with her stress and her anger, and Tina’s coping is measured as a progression from a boxing fitness class to getting into the ring to learn the ropes of the sport (pun intended). But this isn’t a movie about boxing, and there’s no the fight that the story builds toward. There’s no big cathartic showdown with Amanda over their daughters’ contentious relationship; sorry. There’s no big cathartic anything. The “fight” here is the daily struggle just to get to the end of the day, simply climbing one’s way to the small victory of (hopefully) not giving in to a total freakout meltdown in the face of the endless treadmill of day-to-day living. And that fight is neverending. Seeing the difficult, complicated reality of a woman’s life depicted like this — in a way that many women will instantly recognize — and with such sensitivity and awareness and understanding, is absolutely essential to creating a cultural empathy with it, which is desperately needed.