Movie Review: "Fighting with My Family" (2019)
Here comes another one of those reviews where your faithful servant feels compelled to give you the “full disclosure” up front: I’m a mark for professional wrestling a.k.a. sports entertainment a.k.a. the most underrated and disrespected sport on Earth today. Where else can you get a combination of acting, physical violence without stuntmen, comedy, and no retakes? It’s an art form that many of us love, but seemingly few of us will shout it from the rooftop.
That’s not a problem for me, but I digress…
Director and writer Stephen Merchant (The Office) joins forces with WWE Studios and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to tell the true story of Saraya Knight (better known as former two-time WWE Divas Champion, Paige), who became the youngest female champion in the history of the business. Saraya comes from a wrestling family (both of her parents and both of her brothers are professional wrestlers in the UK and run the WAW promotion). The film chronicles her start in the business at age 13 up to the night she debuted on Monday Night Raw by defeating the (then) longest reigning Divas Champion of all-time, AJ Lee (not played by AJ Lee for reasons obvious to wrestling fans).
I won’t synopsize further than that in order to stay spoiler-free, but I sincerely hope that people who don’t dig on the wrestling business (or even find it silly) will see Fighting with My Family. Sure, it’s formulaic in its approach to telling the story, but that’s a given with most movies, especially inspirational stories of perseverance and passion. That’s not an issue. There’s a particular way the story is structured and certain beats that are followed in Hollywood, and this is no exception. There are parts glossed over (like the majority of her time in NXT developmental) that leave a gap, but there’s always something left out when adapting a true life story. And this IS a true story, much more so than many movies of this ilk.
However, to get caught up in that would be to miss the beauty of the forest for the sake of all the damn trees. Florence Pugh (The Commuter) fully inhabits the role of Saraya in a way that fans and non-fans alike can sink their teeth into. She’s a bit of a freak and proud of it. Zack Lowden (Dunkirk) is every bit her equal as her brother, Zak, also picked to try out for the WWE and take a shot at the big time. Before events unfold, you know where his story is ultimately going to go, and he makes it both heartfelt and believable. Both have a natural chemistry with each other that has an audible click.
Fighting with My Family is the name of the movie, though, and the parents are the driving force. Played by Nick Frost (Ed from Shaun of the Dead) and Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones), they anchor the film both with big name cred and acting chops to spare. As Frost ages, he shows an expanding range and ability to be more than just a funny man (while remaining almost hideously funny). Headey is simply a walking goddess who owns her roles in true boss fashion. The whole family gels together on-screen in a way that is very organic…much in the same fashion that Paige herself got over with the fans! Major props go to Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers) for playing the movie’s only fictional character in Hutch Morgan, who is actually a combination of multiple NXT trainers and coaches. He’s the drill sergeant with a heart of gold, and it’s a great fit for his acting style.
The family moments deeply moved me into cutting some onions a couple of times. My own family is like this- we’re all fans of the biz and don’t mind telling you! We scream at the TV, we mark out, we keep up with the dirt sheets, we speculate and then freak out. We’ve been to Wrestlemania, Summerslam, Monday Night Raw, etc. It’s a beautiful family bond, and hopefully every family has that (though if it’s not wrestling, you’re missing out…I’m just saying)
That passion is the beating heart at the core of Merchant’s film, and even if it sells about as obviously as “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels mocking “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan it still works wonderfully. The true story of Saraya-Jade Bevis is about passion, belief, and drive in a business where those are the most instrumental qualities you can have. I know, I know- that can be said of success in life itself and not just wrestling; that’s so true it’s downright axiomatic.
Still, there’s no job in the world where heart means more than that of a professional wrestler. That’s the spark that is referred to repeatedly throughout and the reason that Fighting with My Family works so well. It’s a movie about family bonds and fighting your way to the top, a universal inspiration wrapped in sweaty spandex and surrounded by screaming fans.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
**Stick around during the credits for some nice archival footage of the real Bevis family. It’s great stuff.**