Fighting With My Family is a heartwarming new comedy based on the incredible true story of one of WWE’s biggest female wrestling superstars, Paige. Wait! This isn’t a wrestling movie. And before you click away to dismiss the film as a ridiculously silly, amped-up, over-the-top tale of some obscure entertainer that no one other than the wrestling world’s fringe elements have ever heard of, at least hear me out.
Yes, the movie is ridiculously silly, yes it is amped up and over the top, and Paige is certainly far from ever becoming a household name in America. But the professional wrestler’s underdog story, as told by writer/director Stephen Merchant (The Office), makes for one heck of an inspirational ride and is perhaps the year’s biggest surprise. It is the tale of a young woman forced to leave her family, dig down deep, and ultimately learn that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star. So, that’s right all you freaks, misfits, and oddballs. You now have a new film to call your very own. Time to celebrate your weirdness.
Based on the true story of WWE superstar Paige (played here by Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth), Fighting With My Family was born from a cheaply-made documentary called The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family, and is about a wrestling-obsessed family in Great Britain that catches a big break when its youngest member, sister and daughter Saraya Bevis (who would later change her name to Paige), is invited to tryouts with hopes of becoming a wrestler for WWE’s developmental-league affiliate, “NXT.” Not only does Saraya make the cut and pass the grueling training session from WWE recruiter Hutch (Vince Vaughn), but she soon becomes the league’s inaugural champion.
It is important to point out that Saraya wasn’t the typical WWE candidate when first spotted by Hutch. Most are former models or cheerleaders with golden locks and buns of steel, but Saraya – the only actual wrestler in the bunch – is a fish out of water amongst her selected peers. With jet-black hair, heavy eye-liner, multiple piercings, and a mile-long mean streak, Saraya quickly learns that she’ll face twice the challenge – both physically and emotionally – to reach her goals.
Pugh becomes a true star right before our eyes, and very nearly steals the entire show as we watch her Saraya muster the strength to turn her vulnerable persona as an offbeat misfit into one of a true champion. And that birth of a butterfly is where the real-life Saraya’s story begins and ends, and Merchant has captured her transformation into Paige perfectly. We will undoubtedly see more of Pugh in the future. Saraya’s family lives a hardscrabble life in a rough part of England, with the only means of making a living coming from the low-rent wrestling league father Patrick (Nick Frost, The World’s End), and mother Julia (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones) run in their home town. But Merchant’s film grabs onto their second-class lifestyle and champions it as a banner of the common-folk. They may not have much, but they are perfectly content living in the dreams of one day making it to the big time.
Meanwhile, Saraya’s older brother Zack (Jack Lowden, Mary Queen of Scots), who fights under the stage name of Zack Zodiac and who was denied the opportunity to try out for the WWE, is left back home in Norwich, England, where he seethes in the misery of knowing that his sister was selected but he wasn’t.
There is really nothing new or original about the story Merchant tells. He runs through most of the sports comedy tropes while interweaving loads of heart and soul into his true-life drama that speaks to the family’s – and our – independent spirit. And that is where Fighting With My Family finds its greatest success. Unlike most sports movies, none of the emotions feel fake or forced, no matter how silly the subject matter. But his story about desire, familial dysfunction, broken dreams, hard work, success, and learning to be yourself delivers a smackdown to our emotions.
(Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and rated “PG-13” for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.