Movie Review: ‘FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY’ an underdog story that wears its heart on its sleeve

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

Rated PG-13, 108 minutes.
Director: Stephen Merchant
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Olivia Bernstone and Dwayne Johnson

Professional Wrestling is something of an anomaly in the sports world as well as the entertainment world. It’s a sport but with scripted outcomes, translated through commentary and set in gyms, arenas, or even stadiums. Storytelling that is predominantly told within the confines of a match and presented to an audience. Usually it revolves around a hero wrestler (a.k.a. babyface) trying to overcome the obstacles set before them by the villain (a.k.a. heel). Let’s face it, good vs. evil is the oldest conflict in the book, so it can easily translate to the audience.

One of the motifs, if you will, is the classic underdog wrestler. Their storyline consists of being put down, counted out, jumping every hurdle until the underdog overcomes those odds and achieves their happy ending. Sometimes it involves a championship, other times it is just a grudge. This underdog story is the main backdrop for FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, which is centered on the life of Saraya Bevis, best known as WWE wrestler and former champion Paige.

Based on the 2012 documentary THE WRESTLERS: FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, the film focuses on the Bevis family, who runs a local wrestling promotion in Norwich, England. Saraya (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are the focal points of the promotion, which is run by their parents, Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey). They do what they can to make ends meet, as Zak and Saraya try to achieve their dream of being in the WWE, the biggest pro wrestling company in the world.

They both have real-world problems presented to them in the first act. Saraya’s looked down on by other women because she is outside the “norm”; Zak and his girlfriend are unexpectedly having a baby. After sending tapes of their matches, and multiple attempts to make contact, Zak and Saraya get the call to come tryout for WWE in London. Running the tryout is WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), and it’s here that Saraya picks the stage name of Paige, mainly because of her affinity for the show Charmed.

Out of the many at the tryout, Paige is the only one picked to go to Florida and train. She refuses to go without him, and before Hutch kills her dream too, Zak convinces her to go and do it for their family. Training will not only test her physically, but it will also test her relationship with Zak, her relationships with fellow wrestlers, and it forces her to have doubt in herself. Can she overcome these obstacles and reach her dream, or will it all make her quit?

Written and directed by Stephen Merchant (THE OFFICE, EXTRAS, and HELLO LADIES), there is a definite formula to FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, as it flows with the typical underdog tropes that moviegoers can appreciate. However, it never feels stale in its presentation, mainly because it is so damn funny. The Bevis family are a cast of characters, and their eclectic personalities help to breathe levity in between Paige’s problems in training and Zak’s depression from having his dream crushed.

It also helps that Florence Pugh is a star (if you haven’t seen 2017’s LADY MACBETH, do so now!). She manages to give a lot of gravitas to the lead role, which is key because Paige herself has a lot of heart and gumption, especially given her circumstances outside of wrestling the past few years. Pugh excels at bringing in the uninitiated wrestling viewer into that world, while still being relatable for that audience. Jack Lowden is also key here, as he portrays the dark side of the business, falling through the quicksand without a way back. They are both following redemption from both sides of the coin and it’s a great dichotomy.

With Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s production company Seven Bucks and WWE Films behind the picture, there is a definite goal of making this movie for everyone. Therefore, there are a lot of liberties taken with regard to Pro Wrestling and Paige’s history in getting to the WWE. This might put off die hard fans that pay to see her story told. For example, Paige spent time in their developmental brand NXT before getting her big debut on their flagship show, Monday Night RAW, even being their inaugural champion. But they have to cut most out, because it is involving history and business jargon that casual viewers/non-viewers will be left feeling disconnected or bored.

Even though they don’t follow her story to a T or give more insight into pro wrestling as a whole, FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY is a really good underdog story that wears its heart on its sleeve and will make audiences cheer. There could have been more involving Paige’s career, but, much like in pro wrestling, sometimes the journey is a lot more fulfilling than the outcome.

Grade: B-

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY opens nationwide today!

Feature Photo: (l-r) Lena Headey, Florence Pugh, and Nick Frost in FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, directed by Stephen Merchant, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.