Fighting with My Family Review: An underdog story that can’t be missed
Sports dramas are always known for bringing great underdog stories and writer/director Stephan Merchant brings another excellent entry with his new film Fighting with My Family.
The film follows the true story Saraya (Florence Pugh), better known as Paige in the wrestling world, as she grows up with her wrestling family in Norwich, England. Professional wrestling is not only the blood that’s coursing through her family’s veins, but also what makes their family have a decent living. So that why when an opportunity arises for her and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) to join World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the two immediately jump on the opportunity. However, when Paige is the only one to make the cut, she has to reconcile with her feelings towards the sport and her family as well as find the strength to find her own voice in the wrestling world.
Merchant, in his second directorial outing, really captures both the stunning and glorious style of the WWE as well as the dirty and run-down look of the local wrestling scene. It’s actually intriguing to see how the film gives an inside look to the world of professional wrestling and how people tend to view the sport as a whole. There’s a strong attention given to how certain moves are done as well as the necessity to build your own stage presence so that fans will want to side with you.
When thinking about what makes a wrestler own the audience’s attention, my mind immediately goes to the word “presence” and this is definitely something that Pugh brings to her performance. Her portrayal of Paige’s more confrontational and fun attitude is great and makes the film an absolute joy to watch. Not to mention, seeing Paige’s start is incredibly interesting because of her views of the wrestling world and how it makes her kind of an outsider at first. Due to her growing up in a more “local” wrestling lifestyle, she associates some of the women as well as the lifestyle as stylized and there being more love for fame than the sport itself. The film recognizes that this isn’t the case and it’s interesting to see Paige recognize her own faults and find her strength through fellow female wrestlers.
There’s also plenty of great moments that comes from Paige’s family as well as some of the supporting cast. Nick Frost and Lena Heady provides some funny and endearing moments as Paige’s parents and Frost especially has some standout moments. The film also touches on how much family means to Paige’s lifestyle and there are some very touching moments where they all must think about the values of their family.
Vince Vaughn also steps in as a “coach” to Paige and has some hilarious lines. Dwayne Johnson also cameos as himself and brings both the glorious WWE superstar personality many grew up seeing him as and the more inspirational attitude that many recognize for him now. The real standout, though, has to be Lowden as his struggles with him not being able to live his dreams can really hit you; even if it comes off as a “movie moment” sometimes.
These “movie moments” are what really brings the story down from time to time and I was constantly questioning how factual the film was to the true story. Upon doing more research on Paige’s story, it was surprising to see how her story was quite different in terms of how the crowd treated her. In the film, the crowd boos her and treats her like a freak because she isn’t a cute blonde like her cohorts. These moments felt a little tough to believe considering how volatile the crowds’ reactions are and how the film sometimes paints the WWE fans as misogynistic and mean.
In reality, Paige was widely accepted and many even sided with her from the start of her RAW debut against AJ Lee. Part of me understands that these changes are likely to fit the more underdog story the film goes for, but moments like this actually come off like “movie magic.” Frankly, I would’ve rather seen Paige’s real story and see a stronger focus on how the WWE fanbase can actually be a little more accepting and desires to see people win rather than lose.
I also found myself craving more for why Paige’s story is so special to the WWE and amongst fans. For the most part, the story just goes with the cliché, “not everyone makes it,” and Paige’s impact on the sport for making isn’t ever really shown.
For instance, I love seeing how wrestling really influences the younger local generations of Norwich as it gives a great reason to why the sport is so important to some. Seeing Zak and Paige teach a blind boy to wrestle felt very inspiring and is a side of the sport I haven’t really seen before. Perhaps if the story went beyond Paige’s RAW debut, there could have been more moments like this and we could’ve gotten to see the strong impact she had on the WWE outside of just descriptions with title cards.
So even with Paige’s true story not always be represented in the truest fashion, the performances from everyone involved make Fighting with My Family an underdog story that can’t be missed. It’s a strong sophomore directorial outing for Merchant and he uses his comedic talents to craft a funny, heartwarming, and strong sports film that will be tough to leave without smiling.