Fighting With My Family
There was nothing like growing up hearing the ringside call of Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross. If I had a personal genie, I would wish to have them narrate my daily life for a month just to live it to its ultimate potential. Nothing would catch me off guard. I’d be jogging around Piedmont Park here in Atlanta and if someone was trying to sneak up on me; Jim Ross would scream out “wait, oh no... oh no” and then I wouldn’t get hit over the head with a metal chair. You can never be too careful here in the A! Man, life would be so sweet.
Life got even sweeter last week when the misses and I took in “Fighting with My Family”. An underdog story, bio pic based on real life WWE Superstar, “Paige.” Admittedly I’ve been out the game for quite a while. I think the last time I gave wrestling my full attention “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was still around crackin beer cans over candy asses and giving them his signature “Stone Cold Stunner.”
Paige must be doing something right over there to get WWE studios and the Rock to produce this movie, and man oh man did they do a great job.
Saraya (Florence Pugh), born into a tight-knit wrestling family competes alongside her parents and brother Zak (Jack Lowden) in the independent wrestling circuit in Norwich, England. Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Heady) after sending dozens of tapes to the WWE get a phone call at dinner one night from Hutch (Vince Vaughn); a wrestling coach and talent scout who’s looking to give Zak and Saraya a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a try out coming to their neck of the woods. But, when only Saraya now going by the stage name “Paige” earns a spot in the competitive training program without Zak, she must leave everything she’s ever known behind and face this new challenge alone. Paige's journey pushes her to dig deep and find out who she is and what she’ll do to prove to the world and especially herself that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star.
Steven Merchant of “The Office” fame directs and pens this story to adapt a strong tale that’s ultimately about family and the love you share with each other and yourself. Paige’s story is not all that different than a lot of the great ones we’ve seen in other sports bio pics.
She and her family are a bit obscure to most, but very much normal to one another. “Fighting with My Family” packs in all the feels and tapped in to that nostalgia that added another layer of connective tissue to the production. While watching, I had to ask myself, “Where did that love for wrestling go”? I remember staying up late Monday nights watching the USA network and waiting for “RAW” to start. From the grandiose entrances and music, to the costumes and personalities; this movie brought to life all the eccentricities of the sport and celebrates them with precise tone that never detracts from the story. We have a chance to see the differences between the indie circuit and the big stage which is amazing representation for the millions of wrestling fans that make this world so unique. This is far from that early 2000’s movie “Ready to Rumble” which also featured “The King” and is a more of a farcical comedy that was pun full intended to be over the top. This movie was all heart and a tour behind the curtain as well.
The “A” story is about Paige and her rise up the ranks to an unlikely title shot that ends with her and the “Divas” Championship belt around her waist. Florence is a real jewel in this role and a fresh face for little girls and boys to look up to. Her timing was impeccable, and she most definitely has that something special where every time she’s onscreen you can’t take your eyes off of her. I can see why Hutch gravitates toward her. Shes magnetic even without trying and while on screen things happen maybe a little too matter-of-factly; though we only got a little over 90 minutes to move the story along. Ill forgive that.
The “B” story however, is even more gripping and complements each other and focuses on Zak and how he deals with missing out on his shot by coming up short in the “It factor” department and unable to join his sister. What do you do when your dreams that you’ve had since being a little kid, in your mind were stolen buy your younger sister? Zak never thought he’d have to answer that question. His life is wrestling and was on pace to make his mark; or so he thought. Zak is in my mind is as inspiring of character. Jack Lowden's portrayal was strong with the right amount of vulnerability too. During the day outside of the tights Zak connects with the youth around town and transports them to his family’s gym. He even teaches a young blind boy to wrestle. If that’s not awesome I don’t know what is. He does all this even while maintaining a full-time job as he prepares for fatherhood. Unfortunately, the “No” he gets that night of the try out, sends Zak into a downward spiral that leaves him in a dark place until he and Paige link back up on her holiday break to talk it out. This sequence of events I can imagine connects to a lot of the audience watching.
Growing up we believe that are dreams are owed to us. Life has a funny way of handing you a rude awakening at the time in your life where everything seems to be going right sometimes. But, that’s the real test. How do we get back up after life knocks us down? For Zak, it’s an encounter with Paige after an ugly drunken bar fight that’s acted so well and written so honest that highlights what both characters are going through. Its Paige’s words that strike a chord with in him. Zak doesn’t see the struggle she has been going through of her own. He sees the glossy veneer of what he dreamt of having he thought he lost. Paige shares the brutal reality with him of what she’s been dealing with and it opens his eyes a little bit.
This is where Merchant’s script gets even stronger, not to make this moment a big mush ball and to have Zak just roll over. Paige has been challenged, struggling to find identity outside of her family while try to maintain who she is. What she learned was that all she thought was off and peculiar was exactly what she needed to be unique and to find love in that. She shares one the best pieces of dialogue in the whole movie with her brother that stops him in his tracks at his darkest moment. “Just cause millions of people aren’t screaming your name when you do it, doesn’t make it any less important.” The movie organically progresses in away where the words aren’t defeated by fantasized machinations but portrays a family whose dreams were still theirs and just because they don’t come true the way you wanted, doesn’t mean you give them up.
This is a story celebrating the opportunities we seek, and we share with people. I’m unsure how much Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson influence was fact or fiction but his injection into the movie carries the same amount of charm that not only makes the movie that much more heartwarming but really funny too. This film does a great job at not sacrificing the tone for a cheap laugh either.
Nick Frost and Lena Heady are such vets and with much smaller screen time still light up the screen and do justice to the real-life parents of Paige that we get to see in the end credits. Even their story depicted on screen serves as a lens about ambition. Its powerful and without the support and love of those you care for most it can make you great or wreck your life. The chemistry in the ensemble is the perfect through line of the film. No one really outshines one another which allows the plot to be paramount the entire time. Underneath the makeup, the training, bowling balls to the nuts, or receipts to the face we never forget about the love Paige fights for; of her family, in herself, and near to tears when she triumphs in the end.
“Fighting With My Family” is the best WWE movie to date. The refreshing script with its snappy dialogue and strong acting performances headlocks and exceeds expectation. This movie choke slams you with nostalgia and celebrates the human spirit that by the end of the film, you’ll want to whip out cardboard, scissors, and markers to create your own belt and be world champ in whatever your dreams take you.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 8/10
Director: Steven Merchant
Writers: Steven Merchant
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Nick Frost, Lena Heady, Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn
Run Time: 108 mins