Currently in theaters is Fighting With My Family, the much anticipated sports-dramedy written and directed by Stephen Merchant and produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the early press screening courtesy of United Artists, Allied Marketing, and Regal Cinemas.
Based on Max Fisher‘s 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family, the film tells the story of professional wrestler Saraya Knight, better known by her ring names Britani Knight and Paige. A member of the famed Knight Family of British Wrestling (which is greatly understated for comedic purposes in the film), young Paige (played by Florence Pugh) dreams of one day becoming a world champion as she wrestles for her family’s pro wrestling fed in her hometown of Norwich, England, UK. Then one day, while World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is doing a live event at the O2 Arena in London, her and her brother Zak “Zodiac” Knight (played by Jack Lowden) are granted a WWE tryout at the show. Once they arrive, they meet Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who give the two some advice before sending them off to meet with trainer Hutch Morgan (played by Vince Vaughn).
There, the two join a group of several other wrestlers and WWE hopefuls – amusingly, including (real-life WWE United Kingdom Champion) Pete Dunne in a cleverly-place cameo that only actual fans of pro wrestling would even catch – and ultimately, none except Paige herself are selected to move on, and join WWE at their Performance Center in Tampa, Florida.
Now in America, Paige begins her formal WWE training at the Performance Center, and joins their developmental league NXT. Meanwhile, back in England, her brother Zak grows increasingly depressed and resentful, as the rest of her family continue running their promotion and cheering her on from afar. From there, Paige struggles with life in the big time, trying to get along and mesh with her fellow wrestlers, and ultimately comes to accept both her place in the world of pro wrestling, as well as grow into her future role as a locker room leader, and one of the biggest female stars in WWE, culminating with her famous debut match on Monday Night Raw against then-Women’s Champion AJ Lee (played by current WWE wrestler/manager Zelina Vega, as the real-life Lee has long-since departed from the company, amidst the much-covered controversy with husband CM Punk – look it up if you’re curious).
Now, obviously, a lot – and I do mean, A LOT – was skipped over with Paige’s career between being signed and debuting on the main roster, most notably her reign as the first ever NXT Women’s Champion, her spearheading the “Anti-Diva” movement, and having a substantial fanbase, and indeed still being the NXT Women’s Champion upon her debut on the Raw episode the night after Wrestlemania 30. This does hurt the story somewhat, as it definitely could’ve added quite a lot to all of the impact on women’s wrestling that Paige actually did have, but ultimately, the filmmakers (either for time constraints, flow of the narrative, or something else) chose to make it more of a coming-of-age, feel-good story about a young girl with big dreams finding herself, and achieving her dreams of stardom. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, and for what it was, the film absolutely delivered, but still, one can’t help but wish it told more of the real story, and a little less of this one in what’s supposed to be a biopic.
Worth noting is the outstanding acting performances all throughout this film. Florence Pugh does an absolutely stellar job as Paige, going as far as to do such a great portrayal that viewers can easily forget that it’s not Paige herself. Likewise, Nick Frost and Lena Headey do a phenomenal job as Paige’s wrestler parents, serving as the heartwarming misfits and comic relief at the same time. Vince Vaughn and Jack Lowden also do fine jobs, and of course Dwayne Johnson is always a delight, especially when he fully embraces his best-known persona as The Rock, though it does seem a bit unfair to praise him for playing himself, albeit the amped-up “Rock” version of himself, but I digress.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Fighting With My Family is what it is. A fun, feel-good sports drama with plenty of good comedy thrown in, a few nice easter eggs for wrestling fans to enjoy, and ultimately a great woman-centric film in a genre that is almost entirely dominated by men. It definitely deserves some praise for being a sports drama biopic about a female athlete, that doesn’t go out of its way to make it all about the fact that she’s a woman, and instead focuses on the fact that she, regardless of sex, is a wrestler. While the facts are very much cherry-picked, and quite a lot of real-life stuff was grossly skipped over, it was still an enjoyable film to watch, and honestly, that’s totally okay. -7.0/10
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine