Fighting with My Family is officially out in theaters here in North America. It’s gotten a lot of hype and ad space on WWE TV for the past few months and gained some attention at festivals. But, is the flick the melodramatic main event it’s billed as?
Saraya Bevis (real name, seriously), played by Florence Pugh, has been throwing down on the canvas with her parents since she was a wee lass in Norwich, England (that’s “nor-ich”). Coming of age, her parents the Knights (Nick Frost and Lena Headey), a couple of bonkers wrestling promoters, send out tapes of her matches to the States until finally WWE, the biggest game in town and the company The Rock worked for, comes calling. She consequently sojourns to a tryout in London with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) and they meet the grumpy talent scout Hutch (Vince Vaughn). Holding their fates in his hands, he makes a decision that has the potential to send Saraya to stardom, but also tear a family apart — for a chunk of an act.
Truth in Fiction
Is all that true? Most of it. The credits and all involved say it is and Fighting with My Family is based on a documentary about Saraya/Paige and her clan, which was probably the only relevant source material director and writer Stephen Merchant drew reference from (more on him later). Yet, parts show signs of compositing characters and embellishing events.
Case in point: Paige meets a fellow aspiring WWE wrestler and former model named Jeri-Lynn (Kim Matula). Shocker, no such girl exists. In fact, the name bears a resemblance to that of a real wrestler, Jerry Lynn, who spent decades in the business and held titles all over the world, including WWE. Jerry, by the way, is a dude. He is retired and has trained future talents. Was Paige one? They don’t say but it’s possible.
Paige can brag about a really remarkable life for someone in her 20s. She was WWE’s youngest signing, one of its youngest champions, and she found herself in the heat of scandal on a few occasions. Recently, she had to give up in-ring action because of her neck and had an emotional sendoff. There shouldn’t be a need to make stuff up. Nonetheless, the way they dramatize her big title win is loaded with inaccuracies. For one, they leave out she was already a titleholder in NXT that night.
Merchant of Something
Stephen Merchant directed the picture and wrote it. Merchant is best known right now for playing Caliban in Logan but he is a celebrated and accomplished director, writer, actor, and comedian — involved in this little show called The Office. Also, he worked with producer Dwayne Johnson before, in Tooth Fairy, (a movie we will never mention again), and crossed paths with star Nick Frost before, so he seems like the right fit for the job. Heavily involved on all fronts, Merchant even shows up in front of the camera as Hugh, a square middle-class in-law of Paige and her family, for some screwball comedy.
However, any indication he is a wrestling fan is lacking and he is given the challenging task of cutting down an eventful life worthy of a dramatic or documentary series to two hours. The end result is a mixed bag that hits the required beats for conflict, comic relief, and underdog moments while falling into the usual be-you and believe-in-yourself cliches that hollow out an interesting story.
Wrestling with Oscar Bait
Fighting with My Family is a tier above Lifetime biopics, indies with a message like those from the Pure Flix stable, and way above No Holds Barred (1989) and Body Slam (1987). It’s the kind of movie others similar to it should aspire to be. Inevitably, though, it’s going to be compared to that giant of character-driven cinema, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke’s starring comeback role, as an aging grappler after one last shot when weak health and a weak will get in the way, went down as an achievement that won’t be duplicated anytime soon.
Compared to The Wrestler, Fighting with My Family looks like a TV movie most could write off. That’s nobody’s fault but there is a lot to live up to especially with names and brands including WWE, Dwayne Johnson, and Merchant on this project raving about how good it is and why you should see it.
Fighting with My Family is the makings of something special that never goes as far as it could, not that it should be bleak or depressing. It’s not bad, just acceptable. Hopefully, in like manner to Alita: Battle Angel, the right audience — mainly teen girls and young women looking for inspiration — will find it and appreciate its blend of Rocky themes and teen rebellion. Wrestling marks could turn out for it, but they won’t even watch Total Divas, or RAW anymore for that matter.
- Good leads in the always capable Nick Frost and Lena Headey picks up a lot of slack. Vince Vaughn is good enough to receive an Academy or Golden Globe nod.
- The struggles within the title family occupy the best moments.
- The weak supporting cast of two-dimensional composites, especially the ladies, at the NXT camp.
- Too much creative license taken to change key moments in Paige's life.
- Wrestling at the WWE level could've been staged better.