Review: Fighting With My Family
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Heady, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Thea Trinidad, Kim Matula, Aqueela Zoll, Elle Gonzales, Stephen Merchant, Julia Davis
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant.
Fighting With My Family could easily have been a naff, inspirational film that followed the usual triumphs and tribulations of a person with a dream wanting to make it big and succeeding despite the odds. It’s an archetypal story that the WWE has told about the behind-the-scenes journeys of their stars.
Instead, the film over-delivers with a constantly funny script propelled by solid performances and a genuinely touching family story.
Based on the real life story of British professional wrestler Saraya “Paige” Bevis, Fighting With My Family tells the story of her growing up and performing in her native Bristol, before leaving her family to make it to the WWE’s NXT developmental league.
The film triumphs in highlighting just how bonkers Paige’s early life and career were. From the way the parents crack down on the kids for fighting, only to teach them proper techniques to inflict more punishment to the blind wrestling student that her brother trained, the story is one of an exceptionally fascinating life.
In this sense, the film transcends professional wrestling, and deserves wider attention.
Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras) wrote the script and directed. His usual style of humour shines through and is fitting for Paige’s story.
Of all the performances Paige’s parents (played by Nick Frost and Lena Heady) are the highlights. Both overcame lives of crime and poverty to become wrestlers themselves (and then show promoters). Their lines and delivery are constantly the funniest. Florence Pugh does not look entirely like the woman she is portraying, but manages to capture her essence well. Jack Lowden deserves a good deal of praise for his portrayal of Zak, with a multilayered performance. Dwayne Johnson delivers well while playing himself in a way that manages to come across as somehow both self-deprecating and self-promoting. Rounding out the cast is Vince Vaughn, who plays WWE coach Hutch Morgan with his usual style.
If any flaw stands out in Fighting With My Family, it’s a tendency to make Paige’s story fit a typical ‘inspiring’ narrative. Certainly, her journey to the WWE was inspiring. She was a key contributor to what would eventually be deemed the women’s revolution, where WWE has started presenting women’s matches in a serious way, on par with the men’s competition. Even so, a speech that Paige gives at the end (added on to what happened at the time) comes across as unnecessary for a moment that really speaks for itself. A certain amount of other liberties are taken with Paige’s backstory. Most of these can be chalked up to artistic licence (Paige’s first, failed WWE tryout is omitted, as is her run as NXT Women’s Champion). However, some changes are odd and unnecessary (seeing WWE regularly cut NXT trainees who they have invested in).
It would be easy to think that Fighting With My Family is elevated by its humour alone, but there is ultimately a worthwhile message underlying it.
As is almost customary for film’s based on real events, Fighting With My Family shows the real life footage of the events after the film has ended. Paige’s parents impart a significant lesson. For her dad, especially, wrestling was a way out of a life of crime and addiction. Some, he explains “found religion” in the way that they found wrestling, an experience that led to “true salvation.”
There is a lesson for the church in there somewhere.
Fighting With My Family releases in Australian cinemas on 21 March.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor