Fighting With My Family
It’s not hard to see how Fighting With my Family will play out. The true story of a young girl from Norwich who becomes a wrestling superstar in the behemoth that is the World Wrestling Entertainment, has all the traits of any other sporting underdog story. What Fighting With my Family has in spades though is heart and a wonderful cast, which allow it to rise above the usual genre clichés.
Following Saraya “Paige” Knight and her family is a genuine treat. Even if you are familiar with her story – the film is carried admirably on the relatively young shoulders of Florence Pugh, as she goes from Norwich to the USA and becomes one of modern wrestling’s most significant figures. Her background and upbringing as a local family wrestler is treated wisely, as is her development into a WWE superstar. Pugh handles the dramatic heft easily, and compliments it with a cute comedic timing that easily wins over the hearts of the audience.
Her family, and supporting cast add layers to a film that may otherwise have come across as cliched or tired. Instead, a riotous energy is supplied by Nick Frost, Lena Headey and Jack Lowden as her parents and brother. The four have been long-standing figures in the UK’s wrestling scene and take the business very seriously – a perfect example of this is when a visiting family question the reality of the sport which brings a riotous explanation of how “fake” wrestling actually is.
Director Stephen Merchant – who worked with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on their seminal hit – Tooth Fairy – blends humour and heart into a successful mix. Even when the film threatens to become mawkish, Merchant pulls it right back in. There may be an element of WWE Studios trying to sugar coat matters here, but fortunately the film never lingers long in these moments. What we get instead is a film that knows when to tug on the heartstrings, and when to show someone getting punched in the face. As tired as that sounds, we are after all watching a film about people who fight for a living, and where would we be if a sports film didn’t contain some actual sport!
Further weight is given to the film in the from of Vince Vaughn’s Hutch – a WWE developmental coach who picks Paige for try-outs in Florida. The clue is in the title here, but where the real fighting happens is not so much in the ring, but with Paige and her family. Vaughn’s Hutch is a journeyman and someone who has sacrificed his life for the business. He knows how things play out, and his reluctance to pick Zak over Paige – when he arguably has better ring skills – is a turning point for everyone. Paige wrestles with her emotions and the battles this brings with those closest to her.
Fighting With my Family never dives into melancholy, but nor does it ignore the more theatrical moments the story naturally follows. The action is well-handled, and cameos from several WWE superstars lend laughs and authenticity. It’s hard to do anything new in the sports genre, so you need to do something to stand out and Fighting With my Family has heart & charm in abundance making it one of 2019’s most memorable films.
Fighting With My Family is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download