Review: Fighting With My Family (2019)
Laughter. Buzz. Crying. Sadness. The urge to break something.
Slotting naturally with Fighting With My Family‘s dive into the full household matrix is the sheer range of emotions conveyed and inspired. The film’s greatest strength is in sticking to the essence of English WWE superstar Paige‘s (born Saraya-Jade Bevis‘) story – The dichotomy of feeling lost when her dreams blurred with that of her parents and brother, Zak (Jack Lowden), and the actual wrestling within the family tying them together as a unit.
Performances across the movie, spearheaded by director and writer Stephen Merchant, are strong in carrying that emotional brevity. Only starting her acting career five years ago, English actress Florence Pugh is a standout. There are more than a few scenes inducing eye moisture, particularly the moment Paige has to toss up between walking away from her dream because her brother wasn’t picked for NXT, and taking it with both hands.
The tension created between the siblings feels real. This particularly comes to the fore in a scene during a family promotional event, where Zak takes it too far and actually physically hurts Paige inside the ring – an expression of his bitterness towards his sister “taking his dream”. Another character brilliantly brought to life is Paige’s mother, Julia Hamer-Bevis, played by Lena Headey with a hell of a lot of depth. Emotions ranging from pride and sadness, to understanding and heartbreak, are expertly translated by Headey, amplifying the performances around her.
In terms of flow and pace, Fighting With My Family delivers well in 108 minutes. Within that time, we get to know the central characters and understand their motivations, while also capturing a good glimpse into what the WWE is like: brutal, brutal and brutal still.
Yet there are plenty of comedic moments sprinkled across the movie, providing awesome contrast to the story’s dark parts (those first NXT promo attempts are gold). The dinner table scene with its raunchy moments (and more than a few gobsmacked looks all round) is hilarious, featuring Merchant and Julia Davis as Hugh and Daphne, Zak’s stiff in-laws.
Now, let’s break down the career-defining moment when Paige unexpectedly debuts on Monday Night Raw by dethroning AJ Lee for the Divas Championship.
The biggest takeaway from watching both the movie and real event is that Pugh’s managed to powerfully translate the former WWE star’s anxieties, physical prowess and huge heart to the big screen.
You feel just as frozen as the to-be champion when AJ insults her and Paige stands there, unable to open her mic promo.
You feel Paige’s pain when AJ slaps her, before putting her Divas title on the line.
You take it to heart when after hitting her opponent with the Paige Turner and claiming the belt, she dedicates the win to her fellow outsiders in the audience. The dynamic, sweeping camera shots throughout the entire sequence are also stunning.
While not a big issue, the film’s ending is a little abrupt. After The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) and fictionalised NXT head coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) exchange a knowing look while looking on at Paige making history, it cuts to black, with rolling facts on how life progressed for characters including Zak and The Rock himself. The effect of this could have been to highlight that one of wrestling’s biggest uproars happened in a matter of minutes. However, the previous scenes and overall pace leave a lingering hunger to see what happens next to the young champion, and that sadly doesn’t come.
Ultimately though, Fighting With My Family is fantastic. The relationships between characters are created and explored with depth, the wrestling scenes are razor-sharp, and the film might just inspire young women to start learning how to throw an opponent (and also take a goddamn Receipt) – like Paige did.