Fighting with My Family (2019)
Fighting with My Family (2019)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: February 22nd, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Stephen Merchant Actors: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Hannah Rae, Vince Vaughn, Ellie Gonsalves, Aqueela Zoll, Kimberly Matula, Dwayne Johnson

 


 

“Z

ak Zodiac” (Jack Lowden) and “Britani” (Florence Pugh), the children of professional wrestlers Rowdy Ricky Knight (Nick Frost) and Sweet Saraya (Lena Headey), seem destined to carry on with the family tradition. Constantly training at their father’s wrestling promotion in their hometown of Norwich in England, the inseparable duo dream of one day joining the WWE to wrestle in front of thousands of ardent fans. They finally get their chance when tryouts are held at the Smackdown event in England, but much to the dismay of both, only Britani is offered a contract. While Zak struggles with the rejection and a growing animosity towards his sister’s opportunity for success, Britani (rebranding herself Paige) travels to the WWE’s developmental division in Florida where she must contend with escalating self-doubt in the face of spiteful competitors and a bitterly uncompromising coach (Vince Vaughn). As her training becomes more unforgiving and her brother’s estrangement increases, Paige begins to question whether she has the strength and devotion required to become the next big wrestling star.

“I don’t want to be a wrestler!” But the applause is like a drug, luring Saraya back into the spotlight. One of the film’s greatest strengths is that it isn’t just about wrestling; it’s ultimately about family, relationships, personal dramas, and what it takes to achieve greatness. Here, especially, the intricacies of the sport are largely dismissed (at one point, a character suggests that only children and morons watch wrestling), opting instead to focus on working hard, embracing teamwork, and making sacrifices to realize dreams. Becoming a wrestling superstar might not be a commonplace goal, but excelling in any profession and serving as a role model are universally understandable accomplishments.

With Stephen Merchant as writer and director, there’s also plenty of humor mixed in; at countless points in Paige’s journey, the laughs trump the adversities. Accidental erections in the ring, genitals flopping out of costumes, and jockstraps wrapped around faces contribute to a lighthearted – if immature – tone, along with the more customary culture-clash comedy of acquaintances unfamiliar with wrestling. In an unexpectedly wholesome fashion, Saraya’s family isn’t dysfunctional; they may be obsessed with an unusual occupation, but (at the start) they’re proud and supportive, not functioning as an additional obstacle to overcome. “We’re riddled with wrestling, and there’s no cure.”

The storytelling itself isn’t entirely new, sticking to the formula for those million-to-one shots at fame and characters in-over-their-heads, but Pugh carries the picture, creating a believable, admirable persona. Her triumphs include detailing the multifaceted job of a wrestler, from bodybuilding, to creating a name and personality, to winning over crowds, to handling heckling fans, to skills with a microphone, even as the film hints at a cautionary tale of pursuing such pinpoint ambitions, which incidentally causes strife when not everyone around her can acquire the same level of success. Plus, part of Paige’s journey involves determining whose dream she’s chasing – her own or that of her family. At times, she doesn’t seem to want it bad enough (a turning point in nearly every inspirational sports drama), though it’s other members in her family that become unsympathetic. Thanks to Pugh’s performance, Paige is a winner even when she’s in her most conflicted state of mind.

Unfortunately, due to the abridged nature of Paige’s transition from the NXT to the WWE, the conclusion doesn’t ring true. As a succinct and spot-on description of wrestling, it’s mentioned more than once that the matches are “fixed, not fake,” which suggests that the deviations in Paige’s actual biography are adjusted for extra suspense. But some of these moments are observably deceptive; a nagging inauthenticity tends to linger in the climactic conclusion. Nevertheless, “Fighting with My Family” is energetic, rousing, and routinely hilarious – quite the feat for what is, superficially, just a wrestling biopic.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10