Fighting with My Family review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
It may come as a surprise that a film about the rise of a wrestler from amateur to WWE professional has a sincerity for family and dreams. And yet it doesn’t. Having heard so many horror stories about how the WWE underpays its wrestlers and makes greedy business calls that leave their most prized assets destitute, of course, a dream-come-true film about being a wrestler within their organization would be seen with the same dreamy qualities of a light sports drama. This is a true story all about one woman’s dreams coming true. What happens after is never answered. Just enjoy the spectacle of her finally getting her shot at Wrestlemania.
If you can distance yourself from the harsh reality, the chipper one in this film has its moments. Saraya "Paige" Knight (Florence Pugh) has grown up in a family that has always idolized wrestling. Her brother, Zak "Zodiac" Knight (Jack Lowden), has been more about wrestling than she has but she still learns to appreciate the thrill of the sport. Their parents are Julia "Sweet Saraya" Knight (Lena Headey) and Patrick "Rowdy Ricky" Knight (Nick Frost), having gone from street criminals to struggling gym managers. They could really use a big boost for thier gym when Paige and Zodiac have become adults. And it just so happens the WWE is coming to Australia for tryouts, the perfect opportunity for the brother and sister to show they’ve got the right stuff for the top-televised ring in the world.
What follows is the story of the tough road to the top. Paige is accepted into the smaller league of the NXT, well on her way to the WWE. Her brother, however, is left behind. She gives the selector (Vince Vaughn) a plea that if she goes her brother goes as well. The selector isn’t interested in him. Try as Zodiac might, he is constantly denied into the ring as the only thing he believes he can do has been stripped away from him. He’s also a new dad and feels as though his life is over. What a tough life.
While there’s somberness at home, there’s tension in the ring as Paige struggles to make a name for herself. She goes through the standard emotions of the underdog striving to prove herself. She’ll approach the wrestling training and league with determination but is also easily intimidated. She finds herself at her lowest believing she can’t cut it in the big leagues. Perhaps a little inspiration from her family to remind herself there’s a lot on the line here will either stress her out or inspire her to move forward.
The WWE is depicted in this film as being marvelous and whimsical, where entering its ranks to become a toy product is a dream come true. A few wrestlers appear in the film and, for being showcased on a program all about performances, they give stiff and winkish performances. There’s even a guest spot of Dwayne Johnson returning for some WWE antics and even when he explodes on Paige and Zodiac for constantly bothering him, he’s more likely to give them loud pep talks than doses of truth. There’s a very brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment where Paige has her doubts about heading into the ring once she’s reached the big time. Will she turn back for the troubling road of fame that follows? Of course not! Not when there’s a happy ending to be had as she wins her first battle on WWE.
Don’t get me wrong; Fighting With My Family certainly has some character charm to its familiar tale. I wanted to root for the eccentric family, especially when they breathe an awkward air around the slightly uncomfortable Stephen Merchant. Like as with any rise-to-the-top sports picture, you really have to distance yourself from the system to appreciate the person, a feat that’s not as easy with how much vivid placement the WWE receives in this picture. It’s an inspiring tale dampened by blatant commercial branding.