Film Review: Fighting With My Family (2019)
WWE Superstar Paige has been turned into Rocky Balboa for her own biopic. And it works better than you'd think it would.
I must state that I grew up on professional wrestling. The WWF (now WWE), the NWA, the AWA, World Class Championship Wrestling--all now long gone--, they were all staples for me as a child. The now defunct World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling also became staples for me in the late nineties when I was a teenager. And I still love it. And for the record, yes I know how they do it but I don't watch movies or TV shows or read (most) books because they're real themselves. In fact, lately, I have been taking to the female wrestlers in WWE because they are more fun to watch and their booking is a lot less goofy. And up until she had to retire at 25 because of an injury, I particularly enjoyed the work of Paige from Norwich, England, who won the WWE Divas championship on her first night on the main roster in 2014. She was talented in the ring, a fireball on the microphone and in her own way she is beautiful. I was also fascinated by the fact that both of her parents and her two brothers were also wrestlers. But I was weary of a biopic when I heard the news, especially when I heard it was a WWE Studios production. All the WWE Studios films I have ever watched were so bad they made Michael Bay's work look good. But I piped up a bit when I heard that Stephen Merchant, half of the driving force behind the UK Office, was writing and directing the picture. And thankfully I can say that I was wrong and the film is actually pretty good.
In 2005, 13 year old Saraya-Jade Bevis (Game of Thrones' Florence Pugh as an adult) of Norwich, England is recruited by her father, "Rowdy" Ricky Knight (Nick Frost) and mother Julia "Sweet Saraya" Bevis (Lena Headley), to wrestle her brother Zak Zodiak (Jack Lowden as an adult) and winds up doing it for her family's promotion under the ring name Brittani Knight until she is 18 when she and Zak receive a call from fictional WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) to try out for developmental territory NXT. Saraya is picked--as "Paige", a name she apparently picked from a character on Charmed--but Zak is not. Zak encourages her to pursue her dream even as it eats at him that he will not be able to so she does. When the dark-haired, goth young lady with a complexion like mayonnaise gets to Florida and trains with beautiful blonde models and struggles with creating promos that are acceptable to WWE and with the exercises, she wonders if it's worth it but with the help of her family she does not give up and... Well, it's a typical underdog story so you can guess the rest.
Paige's life story is fascinating, I just wondered if WWE Studios were the right company to tell it and it turns out they are. The film is very Rocky-like, although far lighter in tone, and contains genuine heart, some very, very funny moments and several genuinely good performances. Jack Lowden conveys Saraya's brother's conflicting emotions of being supportive and jealous of her at the same time and he really makes us believe that even if he couldn't get to WWE and be a superstar, she can. I had only seen Nick Frost as Santa Claus on a Peter Capaldi Doctor Who episode and in one of the Simon Pegg-Edgar Wright movies before but he is absolutely hilarious as Paige's father, Ricky Knight. Likewise, Lena Headley is pretty much spot on as Paige's mother Julia, whom I'd seen a bit in documentaries and Headley is pretty similar to her. As far as Florence Pugh, as a non-Game of Thrones person I don't know who she is. I had wondered why Paige didn't play herself but when I saw Pugh in the role, I understood why. Pugh is wonderful as Paige.
The film takes several creative licenses with the real story, which I won't get into here, but that is to be expected and when you overlook that, you have a well-made, entertaining film and we can finally say that the 2009 film The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke is no longer the only film about wrestling or a wrestler that is more than just a guilty pleasure. And like the former film, you don't have to care about wrestling to enjoy the film.
Three out of four stars. Three is because I sat next to a woman who wouldn't shut up in the theater and for a certain cameo I won't give away whereby the performer just wasn't very good.