You do not have to be a fan of pro wrestling to enjoy the wonderful new film Fighting With My Family, a biopic about the rise of WWE female superstar Paige and the drama that that opportunity caused amongst her family.
Now, you may not have to be a wrestling fan, but I am one and because of that, I came into the movie with some background knowledge on Paige. More on that later.
The movie tells the story of Paige (Florence Pugh), who started wrestling at 13 years old with her father (Nick Frost) and mother (Lena Headey) and older brother Zak (Jack Lowden) in their low brow, independent wrestling company in their hometown of England. Initially uncertain about what she wanted, as soon as Saraya (Paige’s real name, Paige is her WWE wreslter name) found the thrill of performing in the ring, she was hooked.
After several happy years, she and Zak sent a tape to the World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE, to apply to join. When the siblings received a tryout, their whole family was excited. The problem was that Saraya was signed but Zak was sent home. Because Zak’s dream was dying before him, this event sent a ripple through their family and damaged the close relationship between Saraya and Zak.
This movie is really about the relationships between Saraya and Zak, as well, to a lesser extent, the other members of her family. It is an underdog story that wisely focuses on the characters involved and Florence Pugh absolutely slays it as Paige. She brings so much to the role as the WWE star that she dominates every scene she is in. Jack Lowden is exceptional here too, really playing the hurt and betrayal of having his sister succeed in his dream where he had failed.
The movie, produced by WWE Studios, does a great job of showing the challenges and struggles faced by the men and women attempting to break into the business of professional wrestling, especially for the WWE. Vince Vaughn played Hutch, the “coach” at the development territory who pushed the wannabe-superstars to their limits. While this is a true story, the character of Hutch is an amalgam of different backstage real people in the WWE who helped encourage the real Paige in her dream.
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, the movie has some very effective humor to go along with the real family drama. I never felt as if the humor was out of place and I thought it balanced perfectly well. The character of Paige’s father, Ricky, played by Nick Frost, is a wild man with great humorous traits. There is a scene at dinner with Ricky and his wife Julia where they tell about how they fell in love and the troubles they faced. This scene was very touching and showed how wonderful of a connection these two characters had. It was truly one of the sweetest parts of the story.
The one problem I had with Fighting With My Family was the fact that I am a wrestling fan and that I knew much about Paige prior to seeing the movie. In particular, SPOILERS…the film built to Paige’s debut on Monday Night RAW. In the movie, Paige was shown as someone who was not ready for RAW but was able to have an exciting match with Diva Champion AJ Lee (played here by Thea Trinidad, Selena Vega in WWE currently). However, Paige was already a big deal in NXT, the WWE’s developmental organization, and she was the NXT champion. Paige had been tearing up the NXT shows and was certainly ready for the main roster. The film changed that up and, while I can understand why they went the route they went, it was just a tad distracting for me, knowing how it actually went.
Now, I am not saying that a biopic needs to be 100% accurate. In fact, the way they showed the event in the movie was extremely effective and well done and maintained the general spirit of the RAW segment. It is just that I knew the way it actually went down and I could not get past it in my head. It is a minor gripe of mine, but it was going through my head when I was watching the film.
“The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, a producer on the film, came across the story and helped get WWE Studios to produce the film. Johnson also had a couple of top notch cameos in the movie as himself.
You do not have to love professional wrestling to love Fighting With My Family because it is not just a wrestling movie. It is, first and foremost, a character study of a family and their personal demons that affect their choices and lives that just happened to involved pro wrestling. It is remarkably well acted and moves briskly. Paige was one of my favorite female wrestlers and I loved getting to see the story of her rise to stardom in the WWE. WWE Studios has not had a ton of critical hits under its banner, but this one is the best film they have ever made.