Fighting with My Family, written and directed by Stephen Merchant, is brimming with a level of charm and sincerity, that despite its formulaic structure, does a significant amount to turn a possibly bland film into something that leaves a mark on your heart and memories of enjoyment in your mind. Let’s explore all that, Fighting with My Family has to offer in my review and see if its failings are enough to warrant passing on the film or if it’s one worth checking out.
The film tells the true story of Saraya ‘Paige’ Knight – portrayed by Florence Pugh – who from a young age, along with her brother, Zak ‘Zodiac’ Knight – portrayed by Jack Lowden – had the dream of being wrestlers in the WWE. However, after Paige is signed to join the company and Zak isn’t, a rift forms between the two and both take the new extreme developments in their lives very badly. A dream that both of them had could soon spell the end for both their careers.
Fighting with My Family isn’t the most original of films (structure or intent wise), it doesn’t do anything ground-breaking with its story or what it wants to say, and if you’ve seen a story involving someone chasing their dream, going through failures and hardships and then in the end achieving said goal (that isn’t a spoiler, I promise) then you’ve pretty much seen Fighting with My Family already.
But… that still doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable, funny, touching film that I found myself more and more enamoured by. It’s the focus on family and the importance of such a support system that makes this film so enjoyable – and one you’ll find yourself happy to give your time and heart over too.
There are plenty of ways writer, director Stephen Merchant could have focused on the true story of Paige and her rise to the WWE. He could have fully focused on her physical and mental desire to be a wrestler; training montage after training montage and scene after scene of Paige living, breathing and consuming all things wrestling. But like most sport-based films that go that route, it isn’t the most compelling thing to watch after a while. Rap-infused montages and the scenes of heavy objects being lifted (which seems to be what a lot of films like this become) just gets tiresome after a while.
It’s because Merchant makes Paige’s goal to be in the WWE a driving force for the plot and not the only focus of the film – instead it being about the people around her; her family and the seemingly unbreakable bond that she and her brother have – that make you invest in the film and make you care about their story and their journey.
Paige’s journey from wrestling with her family in community halls in and around Norwich, to fighting on the grandest stage of them all would have meant nothing if it didn’t give you a reason to care about the Knight family and the struggles they go through to see their love of WWE and their dream of them making it there not be for nothing.
And within the brash but endearing relationship of the Knight family there is a bond between Paige and her brother, Zak that is the force that draws you in and slaps the emotional centres of your heart around. That bond and the strife it ultimately creates when only one of them gets to live the dream of joining the WWE wouldn’t have been as effective if it wasn’t for the strong performances and chemistry between Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden. The two of them embody and elevate the characters beyond what could have easily been one-note performances, and the work they put into their characters made them a primary reason why I cared so much about their story.
It’s also the rift that slowly forms between Paige and Zak and the subsequent conflict and dramatic encounters that creates the heart and soul of this film. When it’s not pulling a wee chuckle from you or exciting you with the spectacle of wrestling, there’s a real heart to this film that I found quite effective. It’s what played a large part in keeping me invested in the later parts of the film, where in which it could have easily fallen into just being a selection of training montages and trying to overcome failure. Without it, Fighting with My Family wouldn’t have been as enjoyable and engaging of a watch as it was.
Because the film does certainly fall into feeling a little formulaic at times; it’s in no way the most uniquely structured story. Even if you aren’t aware of Paige’s story to become one of the most successful female wrestlers in the WWE, you can still very clearly guess what’s going to happen by checking off the pretty standard list of events that take place in a movie like this.
So, it isn’t a difficult roadmap to follow and won’t be a film that ever really surprises you, but that doesn’t stop it from still being an engaging watch. Though I will say, the drop-ins from Dwayne Johnson are wholly unnecessary and feel really forced. It’s clear they just put him in so that they could feed off of his star power and ability to pull in an audience, which is fair, but still, in the context of the movie, it feels awkwardly out-of-place from everything else.
So as someone who drops in and out of WWE and is fairly familiar with not only the story and career of Paige, but a fair amount of the WWE history, I was pretty happy with the handling of the story and the overall execution of a film that could have easily been a hollow assembly line of an experience.
I’m fine with recommending, Fighting with My Family. Its themes are ones that leave you feeling good at the end of it and the journey it takes you on is for the most part a fun, fulfilling one. It’s not necessarily a film you need to rush out and see. You can easily wait for it to show up on any of the streaming sites. But if you are looking for something to watch, then this is certainly one that’ll pass the time and leave you with positive vibes at the end of it.
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