From the moment Fighting With My Family was announced I have to say I was nervous… WWE’s track record in movies is sketchy at best, largely limited to straight to DVD action fare featuring their ‘superstars’ who, while they might be great at the style of performance needed for wrestling or ‘sports entertainment’, for the most part are limited when it comes to cinema.
Added to that making a comedy out of the story of one of their top female stars of recent years, Paige (aka Saraya Knight played by Florence Pugh) seemed fraught with problems and the trailer, prominently featuring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who as far as I could tell had little relation to the story, didn’t help either.
Maybe that’s why it’s taken me a while to see it (in fact the screening I went to was the second to last in my local cinema) but really I shouldn’t have worried.
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, who made his name as Ricky Gervais right hand man, and featuring a cast of solid British talent it was clear from the off that this wasn’t the usual WWE film.
Balancing a very British sense of humour with a more Hollywood style story of an underdog fighting again the odds might sound like a big challenge but Merchant’s history made him the man for the job, and a great one he did.
The sequences where we meet the Knight wrestling family of Norwich did a great job of balancing the comedic side of the, at times, undeniably ridiculous world of pro-wrestling with a sense of authenticity and reality that it was good to see on-screen.
This set up, for non-wrestling fans, quite what this world involved very nicely, highlighted by a moment between the Knight’s and the parents of son Zak’s (Jack Lowden) girlfriend. From that point on the story rolled along very nicely with comedy and tragedy being explored side by side in a genuinely effecting way.
A lot of the credit for this has to go to the actors, particularly Pugh and Lowden, who take a fairly average script and obvious basic story and imbue it with a heart and honesty that really works.
Particularly this occurs as we see Paige dealing with the pressures of training in WWE’s developmental programme in Florida and Zak dealing with being rejected by the biggest wrestling company in the world and heading back home to a new baby in Norwich.
This gives the film a tone that is nice to see as without at least some of Zak’s side of the story this could have been painfully imbalanced and, while it doesn’t over egg it, it does a nice job of subverting what might be the perceived ‘usual’ gender roles in a story like this (though I wouldn’t say it’s exactly a hardcore feminist film either, too much rests with Vince Vaughan’s trainer character for that).
As a wrestling fan the authenticity of what was shown on-screen was great to see, I’ve really only seen wrestling represented so accurately in The Wrestler before this (albeit with a different focus), and while the strict details of Paige’s story might differ from what really happened the changes do a good job of developing the plot without straying too far outside the bounds of reality.
Meanwhile the in-ring action shown in convincing (the fact it features a number of WWE stars in these roles helps, most notably Thea Trinidad, aka Zelina Vega, as a version of then Diva’s Champion AJ Lee and Tessa Blanchard filling in for Pugh necessary).
All this makes for a film that, while far from a classic is a perfectly entertaining way to spend some time with some characters who come across with real warmth and heart telling a story that balances comedy with drama very well while also being a great way of showing those with little knowledge of it just what it is about the often bizarre world of wrestling that appeals to fans.