It can sometimes feel like a dirty secret as a near thirty year old, but the truth is that, for a time during my younger years, I was a huge fan of the then WWF. Names like The Rock, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chyna, they all hold a place in my heart, but equally, I’m not sure I could name you a new WWE star from the past ten years. So much so, in fact, that it wasn’t until the end credits of this film that I learned it was based on a true story!
Fighting With My Family tells the real life rise to fame of former wrestling star ‘Paige’ (Florence Pugh), a young woman named Saraya Bevis from Norwich who came from a passionate, eccentric British wrestling family to become the youngest Divas Champion of all time. Raised by wrestling fanatic parents Patrick (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey), and brought up alongside brother Zak (Jack Lowden), another aspiring future champion, tensions and fortunes arise when the siblings are both invited to WWE tryouts, only for Saraya to be the sole selectee.
The film progresses as equal parts triumph over adversity, fulfilling your destiny type adventure, and quirky, quintessentially British family comedy and drama. And to my complete surprise, it turns out to be a total winner and delightful hidden gem. There is no doubting the that feel of the film hits my wrestling nostalgia sweet spot, but I genuinely believe that someone who has never watched a single second of the WWE in their life will have just as fulfilling of an experience.
There is no denying that the film sticks to a tried and tested formula as old as the Hercules legend. Girl defies the odds and goes through a whole host of personal and professional trials before coming out a champion on the other side, but when those tropes are executed well, they can make for some of the best cinematic experiences ever. Films don’t always have to challenge us and push our boundaries, sometimes their purpose to simply entertain and hit all the right sweet spots is just as vital.
I’m not saying that Fighting With My Family is one of the best pictures ever, because it’s not, but there it something great about a film that knows exactly what it is and exactly what it is trying to do. It wants the audience to have a fun time with a few genuinely heartfelt and charming sequences to weave together an otherwise fluffy premise, and for me at least, it does that perfectly. Being someone who had no previous knowledge that Paige was even a real person, I can’t attest to the artistic license taken, but from a pure movie fan perspective, Fighting With My Family gave me everything that I was looking for, and perhaps even a little extra.
As Saraya/Paige, Florence Pugh gives a really endearing and strong central performance. Having never actually seen the real Paige before, I can’t attest to the accuracy of her impersonation, but purely as the protagonist in this film universe, she is great. Pugh brings a fighting, scrappy spirit to the role that is integral in making the audience believe she really could be a WWE champion, and I didn’t find myself questioning the credibility of her presence at any point.
The film is blessed with a super strong supporting cast, with Nick Frost and Lena Headey managing to steal every scene they are in as Saraya’s parents Ricky and Julia. The pair bring a really satisfying punch of odd British humour that mixes wonderfully with the glitzy sheen of the million dollar American wrestling world. Jack Lowden plays an important role as brother Zak, tasked with doing much of the real emotional work in the film as the character who feels left behind, his dreams shattered as his sister’s take off. As a family unit, all of the actors share believable and heart warming chemistry, the relationships that they share with each other really are the beating heart of the movie.
There are a handful of wrestler cameos, some that I recognised and some that I didn’t, but of course Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is the standout. He’s just a damn fun movie star to watch, there’s a reason why he seems to have taken over the world and carved out a piece for himself! Shout out also to Vince Vaughn as Hutch Morgan, the WWE bootcamp, father type figure for Paige. He and Pugh share a good chemistry together too, and he clearly enjoys taking on a role that, whilst extremely stereotypical, always ends up being an important one in a narrative like this.
Overall, Fighting With My Family is a film that manages to be far, far better than it deserves to be, do you know what I mean? It should just be a disposal family comedy, but for one reason or another, it feels like there is a sprinkling of magic dust on it. It is massively feel good, and the perfect antidote coming out of Oscars season when things always tend to be overly serious and borderline pretentious. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is just good timing though, this is a genuinely charming, fun, upbeat movie that I guarantee will give you a good time.