WWE Productions pulls a heel-turn from schlocky wrestling vehicles to a warm, inviting coming-of-age story starring Florence Pugh.
WWE Productions are meant to be nothing more than action movie sequels or horror films starring paranormally murderous county mayors. WWE-made films are typically either goofy action or horror schlock; that’s the way the world has worked since the mid-2000s. But now, the world is upside down. Left is right. Up is down. Stone Cold Steve Austin is now Emotionally Warm Steven San Antonio. With Fighting with My Family, the rulers of wrestling have made a genuinely warm, adorable, legitimately good film about family, jealously, and the fear of success.
Written, directed, and cameoed by Stephen Merchant, Fighting with My Family is based on the story of the rise of “WWE Divas” champion Paige. Paige (birth name Saraya, ring name Britani Knight, and played by the ultra-fantastic Florence Pugh) is the youngest child in a family of wrestlers. Her father, Patrick (Nick Frost) is so passionate for his craft that he has founded a wrestling league in Norwich, England to feature his whole family, including his wife Julie (Lena Headey) and son Zak (Jack Lowden). Having wrestled since they were kids, Saraya and Zak have dreams of making it to the WWE. However, once they are both invited to audition,
Much of the film’s success rides on Pugh’s performance. After her turn last year in Malevolent, it’s clear what she can do with the right material (like her starmaking turn in Lady Macbeth). Pugh brings such an immense range to Paige that you can’t help but cheer for her whether she’s in the ring or not. And, in the spirit of kayfabe, she sold so many of her more painful wrestling moments to a tee. I can’t help but think there had to be at least one or two cuts called, only to find out that Pugh was perfectly fine and just a wrestling badass for real.
The most joyous moments come from Frost and Headey’s unexpectedly charming working-class couplehood. After years of watching Headey’s murderous, crazy-pants, power-at-all-costs turn on Game of Thrones, it’s amazing to be reminded how downright charming and hilarious she can be. The chemistry (both comedic and romantic) between the two injects an atypical, adorable energy that pops off the screen. Honestly, if Robert Baratheon was Nick Frost, there would probably be a few hundred more people still alive in Westeros right now.
And then there’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – producer and actor extraordinaire, America’s sweetheart, the Statham anti-thesis himself. Oddly enough, The Rock actually saves this movie from what would have probably been the one pure death blow. It’s hard to think of the WWE separated from Vince McMahon, and the man plays the heel with such a slimeball vigor that it would be very difficult to view him in any other capacity in this film. Luckily, instead of McMahon being the shepherd of Paige’s career, it’s Johnson himself that catapults her to the mainstage. Its such a small twist, but it saves the movie from what could have been a self-serving, gross scene into something genuinely warm and inviting.
Saraya is far from a perfect character, but that’s something that we don’t really recognize until she is taken out of her environment. In Norwich, she is the biggest fish of her small pond, the apple of her family’s eye. As such, all her actions are sensible, her attitude perfectly in tune for the world around her. She even comes across as sweet and sensible compared to her kind, decidedly un-posh Mom and Dad. But once she makes her way to Miami to train, it becomes very clear that she still has quite a lot to work on. It’s a simple twist and somewhat par for the course for an underdog sports film, but Merchant sets this twist up wonderfully.
With Fighting with My Family, we now live in a world where the WWE has made a sweet, kind hearted movie about wrasslin’. If this is an indicator of the future of WWE Productions’ output, we can look forward to an unlikely heel-turn for the company into making – gasp – good films.