DIRECTED BY

Stephen Merchant

 

STARRING

Florence Pugh

Jack Lowden

Vince Vaughn

Lena Headey

Nick Frost

Dwayne Johnson

 

RATED

PG-13

 

RELEASED IN

2019

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 48 Mins.

Fighting With My Family February 18, 2020  

ighting With My Family (2019) is a feature-length advertisement for WWE. But it’s so likable that we don’t much think to be cynical about it. The film, which has been made with the backing of the organization’s production company, dramatizes the rise of signee Saraya “Paige” Knight, best known today for being the youngest-ever winner of the company’s Divas championship. In the movie

Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh in 2019's "Fighting With My Family."

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she’s portrayed by a gothed-out Florence Pugh, who imbues her performance with the bright-eyed passion and overthought only an amateur athlete searching for recognition could muster.

 

What makes Knight unique, and why it makes sense that her story be made into a comedy-drama, isn’t confined to the age at which she started, nor her idiosyncratic presentational style. (She’s the closest a wrestler has come to embodying Siouxsie Sioux.) Knight, who grew up in Norwich, England, was raised by a family of wrestlers, oftentimes facing off in public against her blood. Knight was just the only one of the bunch to make it to the big time. 

 

In the film, whose accuracy is smudgy (just watch the feature’s climax next to its real-life equivalent), we watch as Knight and her brother, Zak (played here by Jack Lowden), audition for a spot in the WWE. Zak is rejected, which temporarily and understandably undermines his self-confidence. Saraya makes it but has a difficult time getting on with other trainees. Few have a similar wrestling-is-in-my-blood background. Her unease is exacerbated by her misguided guilt over WWE’s repudiation of Zak, and by her acute self-consciousness about her looks. (Her competitors were previously models and dancers.) With increasing severity, she chokes. Eventually she starts to rethink her place. 

 

We know, of course, that Fighting With My Family is going to go the inspirational route — have Saraya almost give up but then, after being at the receiving end of a succession of morale-boosting pep talks, return to training and not only renavigate her social standing but really conquer. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a minor role in the film as himself but it’s not so much the expected lampooning of his nice-guy image as it is an extolling of it. He’s one of the you-can-do-anything-espousing people in the film. The story of the Knights has been told twice — once through a book, another time via a 2012 documentary. Fighting With My Family is decidedly the sunniest retelling.

 

We want to be skeptical of it, but it wins us over. This is a feat, I think, brought on not just by Pugh and her predictably charismatic castmates (Lena Headey and Nick Frost, who are very funny here, play her parents) but by the geniality and wit of Merchant’s writing. He finds the laughs in the absurdities of the narrative and these characters, but when it comes time to underscore the seriousness with which these people take their beloved craft he can do it in a way that feels self-awarely moving rather than platitudinously so. Fighting With My Family is a stomachably stirring — something that sometimes hits a sweet spot. B