In case you didn’t know, I happen to be a wrestling fan. As I learned about the release of the film Fighting With My Family I was ecstatic. The world of professional wrestling is already larger than life and some of the stories of its athletes who have made it are incredible. The story of Saraya Knight, better known as Paige, is one of the best ones. So when it got the green light to be made into a movie, I bullied everyone on Flixist to let review it.
As a diehard wrestling fan, I was always going to enjoy Fighting With My Family. I laughed, I wanted to stand up and cheer every scene with The Rock, and I even teared up at the end. While it wasn’t perfect, it definitely was an incredibly effective underdog sports movie.
Fighting With My Family
Director: Stephen Merchant
Release Date: February 22, 2019
Fighting With My Family tells the true story of Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh). The film opens with Knight at the age of 13 preparing for her very first wrestling match. Wrestling runs in the Knight’s blood, Saraya’s parents wrestled and ran their own wrestling promotion in Norwich, England. From the moment they were born, Saraya alongside her two brothers was trained to follow their parents into the ring and someday become WWE wrestlers.
The film stumbles a little out of the gates as it struggles with what it wants to be. The first twenty minutes are a British slapstick comedy with more dick jokes than emotional brevity. But as Fighting with my Family evolves into a sports film and focuses on the underdog story, a solid movie with great heart comes to the surface.
The film hits its stride when Saraya and her middle brother finally get the call to try out for the WWE, their life long dream. They both give everything they have but only one of them gets the invite to join the WWE universe, Saraya. This breaks her heart and her brother’s spirit. What results is her incredibly trying time training to make the WWE roster and the effects of her achievements and struggles back home with her family.
It’s incredibly fitting that family is in the title of this film because that is the greatest element of this film. The casting is top notch and every single member of the family help make this film what it is. Pugh is great as Saraya who goes on to change her wrestling name to Paige. Pugh becomes Paige, which is an incredibly impressive task. Paige is on television nearly every single week so the wrestling fans who see this movie know Paige in and out, her mannerisms, her look, her accent, everything. As the credits roll and we see archival footage of Paige and her family, I was like ‘oh yeah, that’s what she looks like’ — a tremendous compliment to Pugh and her acting.
Vince Vaughn is the biggest surprise of the entire film. Vaughn plays the sarcastic, demanding trainer who brings on Paige and tests her to her limit to discover if making the WWE is truly her dream. Vaughn is in his wheelhouse here as being sarcastic, witty and surprisingly wise. We definitely are getting Swingers and Wedding Crashers Vince Vaughn here and not Fred Clause and The Internship Vaughn. He plays the role of “coach” here and I honestly didn’t know Vaughn had it in him.
However, the true stars of the film are the parents, Ricky and Julia, played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey. Frost and Headey are perfect, hilarious, yet caring and loving parents. Headey has always been my favorite actor in Game of Thrones but this role is nothing like Cersei, and her range is incredible as she is just as good at being funny as she is at being terrifying and powerful.
My favorite moments of the film were the scenes with The Rock. (Surprise! Surprise!) The first time we see him is when Paige and Max first arrive on the set of WWE. They are overwhelmed with joy and the larger than life world they have dreamed of is at their feet. The Rock appears and they ask him for every possible word of advice. “Don’t try to be the next Rock, be the first you,” he says. A simple message, but meaningful and perfect.
The next time we see him is the climax of the film when Paige learns her professional fate. This is the payoff of the entire film and the use of him and the entire family is the greatest scene of the film. What results is a truly motivating true story of a girl who found herself and accomplished a life long dream.
My frustrations with the film mostly stem from their battle with the tone and flow of the film. Stephen Merchant, the hilarious actor from the original The Office and HBO’s Hello Ladies, is the writer and director of this film. A few scenes in this film feel like borderline deleted scenes of British Office episodes and disrupt the flow of the movie. Everyone is committed to the story and the humor of the film, but sometimes a little too much.
I will give this film credit for not playing it safe, it takes a lot of chances on jokes, storyline decisions, and even casting. To use a wrestling metaphor, a lot of this film is spent coming off the top rope with a high degree of difficulty. What results is something a lot like family, not exactly perfect, but something I can grow to love over time.