Fighting With My Family: A Surprisingly Effective Underdog Story
Stephen Merchant and Dwayne Johnson prove to be a palatable tag team, and their joint effort, Fighting with My Family, is a surprisingly effective underdog story that will potentially suplex the viewer with its tremendous heart and charm. It’s easily WWE’s best and most commercially viable offering to date, and one that’s sure to win over the uninitiated just as much as the diehard fanatics.
Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Raya, AKA Paige (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for WWE. But when Raya is the only one to earn a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her family and face this new, cut-throat world alone where she finds her alter ego Paige. Her journey pushes her to dig deep, fight for her family, and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star.
Based on the made for TV documentary, The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family, that aired in the UK in 2012, the film gives a more expansive look at Paige’s story, delivering laughs and body slams along the way. The terrific thing about Merchant’s film (which he wrote, as well as directed) is that you don’t need to grow up watching wresting to find in relatable or entertaining. In fact, you can have no affiliation to the sport and still finds loads to relate to because Paige’s story contains so many universal aspects that practically anyone should be able to see themselves in these characters.
Its major themes range from dreams (achieving them and letting them go), identity (struggling to find your individuality or accepting who you are), and wrestling with family, both literally and figuratively. It’s also a fish-out-of-water origin story that is made all the more empowering because it’s a true story — one which made remarkable waves within the WWE that not only gave women more screen time but also caused them to be taken more seriously. Elevated by a phenomenal cast, headlined by the amazing Florence Pugh (who brings humanity and electricity to Paige — and the moves too) with fantastic support from Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Jack Lowden, Stephen Merchant, and Vince Vaughn (who does what he does best, run his mouth; however, he finds himself on the weaker end of totem pole here), the film finds a bulk of its wit, humor, and charm.
Stylistically, there’s nothing special about this biopic, outside of a few moments of nice lighting, and overall, it’s fairly basic in presentation, structure, and conflict. However, nearly everything it does, it does well, and it does so with an abundance energy, enthusiasm, and heart that you’ll find yourself entangled in Paige’s story. Tonally, it’s pretty cohesive, but it rushes to find its conclusion, a little too fatigued to finish as strongly as it starts (kinda like Paige and the tire — you’ll know it when you see it). Its sentimentality is a bit too saccharine at times, but depending on your susceptibility, it may have you welling at the eyes.
The film builds a perfect bridge for newcomers to venture into the sport, and along the way, it puts some popular misconceptions to bed. For the haters, it shows how much blood, sweat, and tears it takes to make the cut in the WWE. And more importantly, that it’s “fixed,” not “fake.” It does an effective job of introducing outsiders to the joys and artistry of wrestling, all while servicing the longtime fans. Even if it doesn’t convert any skeptics, it will likely give visitors a newfound appreciation for the art form.
The middle is a bit overextended and draggy, but overall, it’s a lot of fun — much more than you may anticipate — and despite all odds, it manages to entertain, gratify, and inspire. Those who were on the outside initially, may find themselves in love with this fixed — not fake — form or entertainment, which, violent as it may be, is fun for the whole family.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of WWE, it’s an absolute must. If you’re not keen on wrestling, don’t be afraid to approach this one, there’s more underneath the hood than just body slams and soapy theatrics.
Rating: 3.5 haters outta 5.
What did you think? Were you pleasantly surprised with the film? Was it complete rubbish? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!