This is the movie WWE Studios was born to make!
Fighting With My Family is the biographical tale of Saraya Bevis, who grew up in a family of professional wrestlers. Both Saraya and her brother, Zak, try out for the WWE when the organization visits their English hometown, but, of the two of them, only Saraya gets chosen. This deeply hurts the competitive Zak, who, with a child on the way, was hoping to have a successful wrestling career. His jealousy causes him to resent Saraya, now going by the stage name of Paige (yes, it is a reference to Paige Matthews from Charmed). With this burden on her shoulders, as well as some nasty stage fright, Paige now has to go through a physical and emotional journey to keep her family together, and to eventually become the youngest champion in the WWE’s Divas Championship.
I wasn’t expecting too much from this film because its trailer wasn’t at all captivating, but a strange feeling occurred in me during the first quarter of the film. Even though I was able to predict where this film’s plot was going, I was still intrigued to see what happens next. It could be perhaps the filmmakers took great care in allowing the audience to get familiar with these characters, as well as their conflicts and their goals. Director Stephen Merchant also creates some great belly laugh moments in order to bring levity to this film’s story, which makes for an entertaining and heartfelt thrill ride at the movies.
Florence Pugh, whom one might remember being one of 2017’s standout actresses thanks to her performance in Lady Macbeth, gets to truly show off her range in portraying Paige, who is the heart of the film’s story. Everything about her performance, from her mannerisms to her moves in the ring, is pitch-perfect, and you just can’t imagine anyone else in the role. In addition to a great lead, the film also has a terrific supporting cast, including the likes of Lena Headey and Nick Frost as Paige’s parents, and Vince Vaughn as Paige’s coach, a sort of water-downed version of his character from Hacksaw Ridge. The interactions between the characters, which include some great zingers, are some of the best scenes in the movie.
An ongoing theme in the film is not to judge a book by it’s cover. Piage, a Goth-like personality, competes against a number of blonde supermodel types. A more conventional film might reduce the blonds to stereotypes and amp up the animosity between them an Paige. In this film, however, these characters are shown to be normal people who are in the same boat as Paige. While it may be true that there are some feisty competitors in professional sports, they have become a tired cliché in films of this genre. This simple approach to depicting competition is a welcome breath of fresh air, and allows for a more genuine sense of growth for Paige.
Having both a heartfelt story and realistic characters however is not always enough to help a film stand out. Thankfully, this film has one other key ingredient: energy. This is especially necessary in a story about wrestling, which is an adrenaline-fueled sport. All of the actors bring their A-game to the wrestling scenes, and they are exciting to watch. The energy can even be found in the film’s soundtrack, which includes a spunky cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business”, by a band whose name I’m afraid to mention in this review (imagine a dirty sounding version of “Thundercats”).
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson makes an extended cameo appearance in this film, and it’s a welcome return to form after starring in both Rampage and Skyscraper last year. However, some moments of him on-screen, including a less-than-subtle nod to his public feud with Vin Diesel, feel a bit too meta and do nothing but massage Johnson’s ego. Of course, Johnson is impossible not to find charming, and his impact on professional wrestling cannot be understated (he is “The Rock,” after all), but egos do need a break every once in a while. Maybe Merchant, who acted with Johnson in 2010’s Tooth Fairy, wanted to give him a more proud role? It doesn’t matter, The Rock still rocks!
Now, I try not to get personal in my reviews, but want to make an exception here. Even though I enjoy writing my reviews, I never really know if they are being read. But, in the last third of the film, Paige said a phrase that stuck with me: “Just because millions of people aren’t watching you, it doesn’t mean what you’re doing is not important.” At that point that the film seduced me with its earnest story about doing what you love.
In the end, I highly recommend seeing Fighting with my Family. There is something in it for everyone, including both wrestling fans and general filmgoers. With great performances, a genuine approach to sportsmanship, and a surprising amount of energy, this film proves that you cannot always judge a book by its cover, or a film by its trailer.