Movie Review: ‘Fighting With My Family’
Plot: Based on a true story, Fighting With My Family follows the rise of WWE wrestler Paige (Florence Pugh). Born Saraya-Jade Bevis to a wrestling family in Norwich, England, Paige would defy the odds to become one of the most popular Divas champions of all-time and herald the dawn of female wrestling popularity.
Review: Aside from a brief time in the late 1990s, I’ve never been much of a wrestling fan. It had nothing to do with the fact that it’s scripted (don’t call it fake!) I just never saw the appeal. However, professional wrestling, particularly the WWE, is a global phenomenon. While of no particular interest to me personally, I absolutely respect the pageantry, the showmanship, and the rabid fan base.
Despite not being a wrestling fan, what I do appreciate is a good sports movie, in particular a good underdog tale. Although director Stephen Merchant’s movie doesn’t possess the inspiration of Rudy or the pathos of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, it nonetheless suffices as a serviceable and entertaining sports film.
Director Stephen Merchant, best known for his work on the British version of The Office and HBO’s Extras, mostly succeeds in his first solo directorial film debut. Fighting With My Family is a very by-the-numbers film that hits all the familiar beats. There’s the initial reluctance by Paige to enter the family business only to find that she loves the sport. There’s the big break when Paige tries out for the chance to become a WWE wrestler and succeeds. There’s the moments of self-doubt, the inspirational speech from a close relative, the gruff coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) who sees something special in Paige, and of course the inevitable match for the championship. Merchant’s screenplay contains nothing we haven’t seen multiple times.
However, just because something is familiar doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cliche. Merchant avoids cliches by rightly focusing on a key word in the film’s title–family. The Beavis family is absolutely endearing and hilarious. We care about Paige’s story in no small part because we care about her family. While they may be rough around the edges, there’s no denying the family’s charm, warmth, and hilarity. As patriarch ex-con Rick (played by the always hilarious Nick Frost) is fond of saying, “some people have religion, we’ve got wrestling.” Meanwhile Lena Headey plays Paige’s Mom, an ex-drug addict who shares her husband’s love of wrestling, so much so that they own and run their own wrestling academy that helps at risk youth. Headey exudes warmth and caring. For the Game of Thrones veteran this is a role about as far removed from Cersei Lannister as you can get.
Of the family it’s Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) that fairs the best as Paige’s brother Zak. Yes this is Paige’s story, however Lowden’s Zak evokes a surprising amount of empathy. Zak doesn’t get the chance Paige does despite wanting it more and there’s a certain amount of bitterness regarding that fact. As an audience we really feel for Zak, even moreso when he finally realizes the impact he can have on other people’s lives outside of the WWE.
Ultimately though this is Florence Pugh’s vehicle and she absolutely shines as Paige. Although only twenty-three, Pugh has already proven herself with fantastic turns in The Falling and Outlaw King and I’m excited to see what she does with director Ari Aster’s (Hereditary) horror film MIdsommar due out next month . Pugh fully captures Paige’s saucy attitude, a rebel who revels in being the outsider. Yet Pugh also conveys Paige’s vulnerability at times, a person who doubts her own abilities and struggles to be her own person rather than the blonde, tanned trainees she’s surrounded by. And when it comes to wrestling action, Pugh clearly has the goods. Her physical action inside the ring is just as impressive as her wrestling persona.
Like any biopic, Fighting With My Family takes a few liberties with the story. The movie doesn’t make mention of Paige’s extended time as the NXT champion. Additionally, Vaughn’s Hutch Morgan is an entirely fictional character, one that comes off a little bland and one note. Vaughn’s portrayal too often feels like he’s playing…well…Vince Vaughn as a WWE coach. There’s very little depth to the character. Anyone expecting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to play a major part will also be left wanting. His appearance is little more than a cameo although the couple scenes he’s in are dynamite. Additionally, Paige’s title shot felt a little rushed for my liking. There should have been a little more buildup.
All of these are minor quibbles however. Fighting With My Family rises above tired sports tropes due in large part to committed acting from a stellar cast. It’s this cast and the characters they portray that ultimately make Fighting With My Family a funny, entertaining, and poignant film.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Fighting With My Family: 7/10