Produced by Kevin Misher, Michael J. Luisi
Based on The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family
Written and Directed by Stephen Merchant
Starring Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost,
Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson
I have very fond memories of the WWE, mostly through my brother’s fandom. I’m still surprised that his stuffed Hulk Hogan pillow managed to keep its shape after suffering many piledrives and suplexes.
But after those late 80s/early 90s heydays, my only interest was casual.
Who is the Rock, and why is he always cooking? Why are there so many invisible man John Cena memes?
So imagine my brother’s surprise, receiving a furious flurry of texts from me after screening WWE Studios’ highly entertaining Fighting With My Family.
The hallmark of any sports film is making non-fans suddenly interested not just in the story, but in the sport itself.
And in this aspect, WWE has a champion.
Fighting With My Family follows the true life story of WWE Diva Paige (Florence Pugh) from her days wrestling with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) on a local circuit in Norwich, England run by her father Ricky (Nick Frost) and her mother Saraya (Lena Headey). As she leaves for training at the grueling NXT camp before getting her shot at the WWE stage, Paige finds that it is not enough to simply be a good wrestler in the world’s most famous wrestling operation. A world away from home, she must learn what drives this dream outside of family tradition to come up with the story only she can tell on the mat.
Out of the gate, the movie lays on the laughs. Frost is a known comic star but also a wrestling fan, and you can see how much fun he is having in this role. While Headey may seem like a strange choice in casting, their chemistry as husband and wife combined with more poignant motherly moments make her an excellent co-star. Grounding this quirky group is Jack Lowden’s performance, which is a heartbreaking view of what happens when you reach for a dream, but reality is where you’re bound. As he watches his sister’s climb, his slow downturn into depression and envy could easily spin off into its own movie. Zak’s emotionally charged second storyline provides a good foil to the emotionally guarded story of Paige.
Though there is a documentary about the family already, Stephen Merchant expands from there and creates a glossy biopic that is sure to bring new people into the WWE fold. There are many cameos for fans and casual observers, including several signature lines from producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This film was his investment, and it is clear that someone who truly loves wrestling had a strong say in the framing of matches and practices. Though there are many points where moves are broken down, great care was given to make sure all of the matches look just as real as they do on Monday Night Raw. The production was blessed to have a live WWE audience for one of the most significant scenes in the movie, and the energy from the crowd ripples right out into the theater.
Florence Pugh is a goth goddess as Paige, and channels her wonderfully without becoming a caricature. She is just as strong a lead throwing Zak into the ropes as she is curled up and homesick at NXT training camp. There is a vulnerability that is endearing and worth cheering for, tied to a strength that will make any audience member roar.
And at the end, isn’t that what you want from any underdog fighting story?
Feel free to disagree, but know that off the high from this film, I’m happy to fight you for it.