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Review: Fighting with My Family (2019)

Fighting with My Family (2019)

Directed by: Stephen Merchant

Premise: Based on true events. Saraya-Jade Bevis, known by her stage name Paige (Florence Pugh), comes from a family who make a living in the amateur wrestling circuit in Norwich, England. She gets a shot at stardom in the WWE.  

What Works: Like professional wrestling, Fighting with My Family combines elements of the show business tale and the sports film. The movie fulfills all the prerequisites of those genres and does them well but Fighting with My Family goes further. Show business stories and sports dramas are about characters with dreams of stardom and the hard work they put into pursuing their goals. Hollywood films typically affirm our fantasies and assure us that if we just want it enough and work hard enough, all our dreams will come true. That’s one of the curious features about Fighting with My Family. It satisfies the wish fulfillment paradigm through Paige’s story but the filmmakers also undermine it with the subplot of her brother Zak (Jack Lowden). Page and Zak come from a wrestling family and they share the dream of stardom in the WWE but only Paige gets selected. Much of the movie is about Paige’s strained relationship with her family and Zak coming to terms with the fact that his dream isn’t going to happen. That’s a smarter and more subversive idea than Hollywood films usually allow for and Fighting with My Family transcends the sports genre and appeals to viewers who would never watch professional wrestling. The family story is the strongest aspect of this film and Fighting with My Family benefits from a terrific cast including Florence Pugh as Paige and Jack Lowden as Zak as well as Nick Frost and Lena Headey as their parents. The four of them are a believable family and they are colorful but also endearing. Paige’s journey from the streets of Norwich to the spotlight of the WWE is a compelling one and her story is given a lift by the respect the filmmakers have for these characters and the authentically heartfelt moments between the family members.

What Doesn’t: Fighting with My Family’s dramatization of wrestling tryouts and training is a bit generic. The action is mostly confined to gyms and beaches and consists of Paige and her fellow prospects running and weight training. Because wrestling is a unique combination of sports and theater, it would be interesting if the film revealed something particular about wrestling stunt work and how characters and personalities are created. As it’s depicted in the film, most of the training action is run of the mill. What’s here is serviceable but the film could have gone further behind the scenes of professional wrestling.

Bottom Line: Fighting with My Family succeeds in providing everything a mainstream audience looks for in a sports story but it also has unusual intelligence and depth of character. This movie is a fun and satisfying piece of entertainment that will appeal to wrestling fans as well as viewers who’ve never considered watching WrestleMania.

Episode: #740 (March 10, 2019)