Despite growing up with friends who followed wrestling I was never very much into the WWE or any other wrestling entertainment medium. However, I am aware of the impact female wrestler Paige has had on the “sport”. An unlikely star of the WWE, her story feels like the perfect rags-to-riches tale for modern Hollywood which is why it has become the subject of a new comedy biopic produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson called “Fighting with My Family” inspired by the 2012 documentary of the same name. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant and starring some capable young and experienced talent, “Fighting with My Family” is something of a passion project for nearly everyone involved. How well does the film capture the allure of its real-life story? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Fighting with My Family”.
“Fighting with My Family” chronicles the rise of 2014 WWE Divas Champion Paige (Florence Pugh). Born to a wrestling family, Paige trains and entertains with her brother Zak “Zodiac” Bevis (Jack Lowden) and parents Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis (Nick Frost) and Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis (Lena Headey) in their family-operated organization the World Association of Wrestling in England. When Paige and Zac get a call from the WWE and trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) only Paige makes it through the tryout as she joins other prospects, including other women, attempting to make it to the WWE. An outcast and underdog, Paige struggles to fit in and adapt to her fellow prospects as her willpower and commitment are tested on her way to becoming the youngest Divas Champion in WWE history in a legendary battle with AJ Lee.
I will admit going into this movie I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I said the WWE and wrestling in general has never really been my cup of tea but having researched Paige and her impact on the sport, I wanted to see how her story would translate to the big screen. Despite leaning on a few too many clichés “Fighting with My Family” is surprisingly entertaining and charming. A lot of this film’s fun comes from its script written by director Stephen Merchant who also plays a small part in the movie as well. Relative newcomer Florence Pugh, who funny enough made her big screen debut in 2014 when Paige became the Diva’s champion, takes center stage as the star wrestler and brings the best out of the great material given to her for the role. Pugh shows her natural talent as a performer capturing not only Paige’s signature look but also her accent and mannerisms as she brings to life the story of a true outsider trying to prove something to herself and her family. She’s backed by an impressive and committed cast that includes Nick Frost Jack Lowden, Lena Headey and Vince Vaughn who all add a nice touch of sincerity and humor to the picture.
It really is that humor and writing that sells the film but it’s balanced by a touching and inspiring story of a young woman thrust onto the big stage just trying to succeed for herself and for her loved ones. Many times Paige is faced with her status as an outcast among her fellow wrestlers and has to adapt to new regulations and expectations all the while trying to justify her journey to herself. That’s a lot of ground to cover, but “Fighting with My Family” does it spectacularly without ever taking itself too seriously or feeling to schmaltzy in the process. It takes full advantage of its touching moments that challenge not only Paige but her family (especially her brother) as well and allows the message of the underdog and the dreamer to shine through but also provides plenty of great laughs to keep the experience lighthearted and fun.
Furthermore, it explores some of the behind the scenes aspects of wrestling that many fans may not be aware of including the camaradarie and humanity of these iconic fighters who are, in all reality, entertainers first and foremost. As a viewer who isn’t really into wrestling it helped me understand the allure of the sport and the complexities of trying to make it in an industry that’s, for the most part, completely rehearsed. In fact, the most endearing aspects of “Fighting with My Family” are the same concepts that makes the sport it profiles so entertaining. In the end these are real people putting it out there for our entertainment and it takes both a human touch and a genuine sense of believably to sell the product. “Fighting with My Family” works kind of the same way with actors working very hard to give us something fun and emotionally driven that we can appreciate.
The problem with “Fighting with My Family” though is that while it does a nice job finding it’s own personality and makes the best of a fun script and talented cast, it still leans very heavily on clichés and takes some creative liberties to make it’s story more engaging. “Fighting with My Family” starts off strong, going through the better part of two acts rising above its clichés to offer something that feels fresh and unique. Once the film enters its climactic chapter it all goes down hill into straight predictable territory losing it’s footing and rushing to the finish everyone knows we’re going to get.
Paige’s story goes through the typical motions of success, self-doubt, the resurgence and then the ultimate rise to the top that is included in pretty much every biopic imaginable. “Fighting with My Family” settles for the typical, formulaic approach to its finale, but what’s even more annoying is how blatant some of the creative license is in this film. There’s some very blatant ignorance of history, especially in Paige’s battle with AJ Lee, that greatly impacts this movie’s authenticity. From inaccurate costumes to Paige’s stage fright effecting her exchange with AJ the way this famous moment is portrayed in the movie ends up being a blatant attempt at pandering to viewers emotions through creative license. Does it make the story more interesting and inspirational? Yes, to a point. But if Paige’s story was that amazing to begin with why change it, especially the event that made her a household name to begin with? This film is an incredibly fun comedy biopic, but it tries a little to hard to add some spice to a story that’s still so fresh fans could fact check it in their heads while watching it unfold and, having watched the actual Diva battle before the movie, it took me out of an otherwise solid movie.
In the end I had a lot of fun with “Fighting with My Family”. A lot more fun that I actually expected. It’s funny, it’s charming, and it makes the best out of a great script, great cast, and worthy subject while capturing not only what makes Paige’s story so fascinating, but the sport of wrestling as a whole. I loved it’s balance of drama and humor and how well it captures the outcast underdog story, but I’ll admit the final act kind of lost me a bit. The finale does have an over reliance on clichés and the overabundance of seemingly unnecessary creative license used to drive home and already inspiring story bothered me probably more than it should. Despite its flaws though it’s a movie I’d very highly recommend. Like the sport it’s based on “Fighting with My Family” is clearly a dramatized product that might rub some viewers the wrong way, but if you can look past that and enjoy it for what it is and the great things it does have to offer you just might find yourself both entertained and inspired.