LIONSGATE (2019)

 

Director: Stephen Merchant

Starring: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson

What was The Rock cookin’?

 

Stephen Merchant and WWE. A match many would have never predicted. But Merchant and WWE are precisely what gave us Fighting with My Family – the story of former WWE Divas Champion Paige and her rise from childhood dreams and local wrestling in Norwich, England to the biggest stage of them all. With wrestling embedded in the Knight family DNA, there were really no other avenues for Saraya ‘Paige’ Bevis to pursue and Merchant has delivered a Rocky-esque depiction of her rise.

For those that are aware of Paige’s story, this will come as a nice visual, behind the scenes look at the sweat, toil, struggle, pain, family love and fights that fuelled the brawler's ascension whilst also shining a positive light on the sports entertainment brand. Those not in the know will find a movie riddled with cliché and convention and an ending that is delivered within the opening scenes, but, you’ll also find a strong, entertaining and uplifting underdog story that delivers a body slamming amount of laughs as well. There’s nothing you won’t see coming from a mile off, but that’s not the point. Merchant focuses on Paige’s struggles and insecurities – as well as the guilt of knowing she was selected for WWE trials and her wrestling mad brother – Zodiac Zak - fell short. Of course, given the title, the familial side of the story is given the lion’s share of the screen time and it’s there that the humour is generated mainly. It’s clear the Knights are a close-knit family and Fighting with My Family goes to great lengths to highlight this.

 

As Paige, Florence Pugh once again shows off her incredible talent (shorn of a corset once more) and her standout performance leads the way. How she portrays the joy, pain, sadness, *insert emotion here* is handled impeccably and she really is carving a successful career for herself. Nick Frost is finally given a role with more to do as “Rowdy” Ricky Knight, the rambunctious and foul-mouthed father and Lena Headey is clearly having fun in her role as Paige’s mother, Julia “Sweet Saraya” Knight. Jack Lowden is allowed some scope and depth as Zak, the troubled brother who failed in his attempt to hit the big time and subsequently struggles to move on and accept the fact. Vince Vaughn is loud and comically on-point as WWE trainer Hutch Morgan and The Rock cameoing as The Rock was a joy to behold.

 

Merchant trims a lot of Paige’s rise to accommodate the families wrestling organisation (World Association of Wrestling) in Norwich and the leap to WWE, so don’t expect a full biopic, but, to be fair, the interesting aspects are all within the movie. The grimy landscapes of Norwich to the bright lights of Florida, the tough, bootcamp-esque drills to the raucous, dazzling live events and Paige’s dark, gothic image compared to the bikini-clad models destined to become WWE Divas for the baying crowds of leering chaps and how this affects her mentally along the way. Regarding Norwich, apparently, it’s one of the most desirable cities to live in the UK – not judging by Fighting with My Family, it isn’t. The grey, rundown estates used throughout show a city far removed from what Paige would later go on to (though Bracknell, Berkshire doubled up as the city also). The dialogue works throughout, the Merchant-laden humour hits nearly every time and when the need for emotion is required, the performances ensure this is matched and delivered. Also, interestingly and crucially, Merchant never makes light of WWE or the sports entertainment business. It’s treated with respect – for the athletes and fans – and no fun is made at its expense which is refreshing and necessary for the emotional beats to work. Certain elements don’t capture the imagination as much (Zak’s impending fatherhood), however, they don’t actively detract from the fast-paced narrative, even if the climactic finale feels a bit rushed.

 

Underdog sporting movies always capture my imagination (well, the good ones anyway) and Fighting with My Family did just that. Less about the juggernaut that is WWE and primarily focused on the human element, the movie succeeds by delivering a good old rags to riches tale that never strays far from convention, but delivers the good stuff in droves and has plenty of heart as well. Florence Pugh is magnificent again and Fighting with My Family takes the coveted Championship belt – for being bloody good.

March 3rd 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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