A Feel-Good Underdog Tale
I have a real love/hate relationship with wrestling and the WWE. On the one hand, I absolutely love NXT and some of the best matches I’ve ever seen have been on this show. No other sport manages to conjure up such enthralling storylines all woven together into a narrative told with two (or more) people’s bodies. It’s extraordinary stuff and once you’re hooked, it’s very difficult to put away.
I lost interest in wrestling around the John Cena era in 2004 and ironically found myself brought back in again when Paige arrived to the main roster and, along with the four horse-women of NXT, saw firsthand a wave of change that helped shape the perception of women in this sport. Depicting her journey from the backstreets of Norwich to the pinnacle of WWE, Fighting With My Family is a traditional underdog story, sticking rigidly to the usual conventions you’d expect from this sort of film.
At the heart of this one are the Knights, a family that eats, sleeps and breathes wrestling. Between putting on shows at their own faction, W.A.W., Zak and Saraya dream of life in the World Wrestling Entertainment. When Paige gets called up to train in Florida, leaving Zak behind, what ensues is a two-fold journey, one that sees Zak sink into depressive despair and Paige realize how hard and grueling this life can be. All of this builds toward the, admittedly rushed, final act that sees Saraya (under the guise of ring-name Paige) make it onto the roster and get her shot at fame.
As a straight forward underdog tale, Fighting With My Family doesn’t have an awful lot going for it that’s original or unique. It rigidly sticks to all the usual tropes you’d expect here, including a dose of foreshadowing early on and predictable character arcs for the family itself. Directed and written by funny-man Stephen Merchant, the self-aware humour and sarcastic wit oozes through every facet of the script, firmly placing this wrestling film in comedy territory. The result is a film that feels all the more organic, with a handful of surprise cameos only further accentuating this.
With Paige recently announcing her retirement, Fighting With My Family feels all the more timely and special. It’s not perfect, and some of the editing during the final match feels very jarring and wonky. The camera cuts back and forth between Florence Pugh and Paige in an awkward manner and while it’s not a deal breaker, it is noticeable enough to stand out as you watch through this. Still, it’s a minor gripe in what’s otherwise a highly enjoyable tribute to this extraordinary female wrestler. It’s not the best underdog tale out there, but it is one of the better movies from 2019 and one well worth watching, whether you’re a wrestling fan or not.