Let me just say this up front: I don’t get professional wrestling. I used to enjoy the absurd theatrics when I was a child but grew out of it. Despite my own lack of interest, wrestling is still incredibly popular, with people from all walks of life drawn to spectacle and showmanship of muscle-bound heroes and villain clad in spandex exchanging verbal barbs and body blows in the ring. The true story of WWE wrestler Paige’s ascent to wrestling superstardom is the subject of the film Fighting With My Family, a crowd-pleasing comedy from writer-director Stephen Merchant that operates by rather basic formula but has enough charms to consistently entertain even when you know exactly what’s going to happen next.
Before Paige (Florence Pugh) can stand beneath the bright lights of WWE, she’s Saraya Knight, wrestling under the name Britani in an independent wrestling association run by her father Ricky (Nick Frost) and mother Julia (Lena Headey). Her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) is the star of their independent productions that play before sparse crowds, and Ricky has attempted desperately to get the powers-that-be at WWE to look at the audition tape of his two wrestling children. Ricky’s persistence pays off when Zak and Saraya are asked to audition for Hutch (Vince Vaughn), the top talent scout for the WWE. However, he only takes one wrestler he sees at that day’s audition, and that’s Saraya who eventually adopts the ring moniker Paige.
As Paige moves to Florida to enter WWE’s rigorous training program, Zak is in the midst of personal crisis. He’s just become a father and he has to realize that his dreams of wrestling stardom have all but evaporated. Paige, meanwhile, struggles to create an identity in the ring and to bond with her fellow wrestlers fighting to make the WWE’s roster.
Stephen Merchant, who co-created the original British version of The Office as well as the underrated HBO comedy Hello Ladies, uses his unique comedic talents to bring the most laughs out of the unusual story. The casting of Paige’s eccentric wrestling obsessed family is pitch perfect, with Frost and Headey stealing every scene they’re featured. Taking inspiration from a documentary on Paige’s family, Merchant balances the humor between some of the more outrageous aspects of wrestling with offbeat culture clash moments, such as a hilarious diner scene where the buttoned-down parents of Zak’s girlfriend are introduced to unusual world of family wrestling.
Because Fighting With My Family is co-produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and WWE Studios, don’t expect the film to get into the weeds about some of the darker elements of wrestling. This is very much a love letter to the theatrical world of wrestling. It pulls back the curtain just enough that you feel like you’re getting a glimpse into how the show is produced, but not enough to show where the bodies are buried. It creates a film that doesn’t sway away from sports movie clichés but thanks to a roster of colorful personalities perfectly realized on the screen it has enough charms to operate despite its ending as fixed as any wrestling match.
Fighting With My Family is a movie that’s a winner whether or not you’re a fan of wrestling. Stephen Merchant hits all the winning notes in this crowd-pleasing film that executes every bit of comedy and drama with the confidence of a reigning champ.
Fighting With My Family
While it sticks to plenty of sports movie clichés, Fighting With My Family proves to be a winner because of the witty work of writer-director Stephen Merchant and a perfectly assembled cast of actors bringing eccentric characters to life.