Fighting With My Family
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
My major problem with sports movies is most of them follow a formula so obvious you can predict all the plot beats as soon as the important characters are introduced. When it works, it can result in crowd-pleasing fun. In order for that to happen, the protagonist needs to be really likable and the script has to be clever. The based-on-a-true-story comedy Fighting With My Family does not quite make it. It forces a fairly interesting real story into a formula that turns it into a bunch of clichés. People who know absolutely nothing about the career of the person it is based on may enjoy it significantly more than I did. I found it to be a mildly entertaining movie that was far too constricted by its genre to develop into anything memorable.
The protagonist is Saraya, a young woman who comes from a family of pro wrestlers in England. At the age of thirteen, she gets pushed to join the family business. When she is eighteen, she is invited to a WWE tryout. She gets chosen to train with them in Florida, using the ring name Paige. The rest of the movie is about her fighting for her dreams, while carrying the hopes of her family on her shoulders.
Fighting With My Family (105 minutes, minus the end credits) has a likable lead and a few fun moments, but adds little insight into a world that very rarely gets shown on screen. What Paige has to do to succeed in the biggest wrestling company in the world is pretty ill-defined. I liked her well enough, though I did not understand what exactly her trainers were looking for. What makes someone acceptable or unacceptable to them? The movie does not seem to know.
Professional wrestling is unlike basketball, boxing or other competitive sports. It is a form of entertainment that uses a scripted competition as the starting point for its storytelling. Training, practice and the skills needed to prosper are different. Yet Fighting With My Family largely treats them like they are the same. That causes the formula to feel awkward because pro wrestling does not fit so comfortably into the usual montages or “big game” payoffs. Success or failure for wrestlers is judged with a lot more nuance than this screenplay allows for. Since it does not take the time to explain the process Paige is going through, her story becomes a series of obvious plot points with very little genuine emotion.
Additionally, when Paige first got to WWE, their women’s division was based far more around sex-appeal than wrestling talent. Nowadays, they position the women as athletes on par with the men. The movie seems to want to say that Paige was the bridge leading from one to the other. However, it never actually makes that argument. It points out several times that she is different from the models she is training with, without showing what made her different. It keeps her as a generic underdog, which prevents it from displaying why people thought she was special.
Fighting With My Family is not a good example of the sports movie formula. It is a disappointingly routine take on a story that is not routine. Writing as a wrestling fan for the better part of thirty years, it is nice to see it portrayed in a positive light, instead of being mocked. Paige has lived an interesting life and her family has a potentially compelling tale to tell. The cast is good and there are some witty lines, but it feels too much like it is walking down a well-worn path it does not belong on.
2½ out of 5
Florence Pugh as Saraya Knight
Jack Lowden as Zak Knight
Lena Heady as Julia Knight
Nick Frost as Ricky Knight
Vince Vaughn as Hutch
Dwayne Johnson as Himself
Written and Directed by Stephen Merchant