Realistically speaking, Paige hardly seems like the first or most obvious candidate to receive a Hollywood level budget professional wrestling biopic (I dare you to come up with a more niche subgenre), but Dwayne Johnson saw something in the Channel 4 documentary based on the Knight family and her journey to WWE that we all probably noticed, provided you have seen it.
If you haven't, I guarantee you will want to after watching Fighting with My Family, which is sure to transform haters into supporters while also bringing in a new batch of wrestling fans (collectively, we are going to have lots of explaining to do on why we continue to watch a show that features Braun Strowman vs Baron Corbin weekly, despite never once having been entertaining). In other words, writer and director Stephen Merchant (most known for creating the British version of The Office), Dwayne Johnson (his Seven Bucks Productions help made the film possible and his cameo presence is a delight regardless of historical accuracy), and WWE have accomplished something remarkable, but also something that fits the very core of wrestling; it's for everyone.
Fighting with My Family is for more than wrestling fans; yes, if a streamlined viewing experience that intentionally does not have every detail right regarding the Divas and Women's Championship actually grinds your gears, you need to let it go and understand that there is a bigger story here inclusive of all audiences that do not need to create confusion explaining anything more than why the main character has three different first names. Simply put, this is a traditional and formulaic underdog rise to fame funneled through the larger-than-life circus that's so easy to love for anyone capable of suspending disbelief and surrendering to lunacy and spectacle.
Most importantly, the Knight family are all strongly represented here, with Florence Pugh being the obvious standout as Paige. The inevitable household name (seriously, she was absolutely Oscar-worthy in the underseen and underappreciated Lady Macbeth) is up to the physical challenge (the re-creation of her Divas Championship match against AJ Lee, now portrayed by Zelina Vega is longer for dramatic effect and was filmed in front of a live WWE audience, and looks great edited together) and nails the self-doubt portion where the training gets too challenging for comfort and the loneliness becomes an obstacle in its own right. Equally impressive is her flubbing her way through promos, but sadly there is no Dusty Rhodes to bring out more natural aggressiveness and sharper statements true to her actual self.
That's not to say Vince Vaughn filling in the role as a composite trainer (I'm sure the character is meant to represent everyone from Dusty Rhodes to Jamie Noble to Goldust and many of the taxing but fair trainers down in developmental at the time) is a misfire. He's basically playing a toned down version of his drill instructor from the Oscar-nominated Hacksaw Ridge, using his booming voice to strike determination into these ambitious students while also pushing them to their limit. There are some liberties taken with the character that are sloppy and don't quite work, but wrestling fans should appreciate the homage. Overall, he gives a nuanced and fantastic performance that hits all of the right emotional and comedic beats
Much like in the documentary, Zak Knight (Jack Lowden delivering an affecting performance that complements the brilliant work from Florence Pugh) is given a solid amount of focus and character development, but here his story is the one that has been fictionally dramatized for effect. He's been rejected and told there is no chance of him ever making it to WWE, which stings extra hard considering that he has a girlfriend and a newborn child to take care of (her classy parents make a nice juxtaposition to the unorthodox and eccentric Knight parents played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey). Nevertheless, the story is perfectly intertwined with Paige's journey and adds to that emotion in a way that still feels real. It's also important to note that the film does not shy away from mentioning Ricky Knight's history of criminal violence and the fact that wrestling is more than a hobby or a business to him, it gave him salvation and the titular family. There's a lot of dark humor that balances out the more broad comedy, rendering them as fully realized takes on real people.
The film also finds ways to comment on wrestling culture while also staying true to Paige's experiences, namely with her initially judgmental approach to her peers, labeling them tits and ass while assuming they are there for 15 minutes of fame. It made her disliked and was another contributing factor to her almost not making it to the main stage, but there is also the throughline that, we wrestling fans can also be unwilling to give someone a chance based on preconceived perceptions or something equally silly. Yes, it's nice when someone aesthetically unique and refreshing in the ring comes along, but there's also no reason to assume a former model is only there for materialistic reasons.
There is definitely reality and fiction, but the movie is absolutely 90% truthful. And for those that are familiar with Paige's story, there are plenty of wrestler sightings in the background to notice and even a full-blown scene involving Big Show and Sheamus. Still, it's difficult to imagine wrestling fans not getting behind the underdog story just as much as someone that knows nothing about wrestling. Fighting with My Family is electrifying, a real Paige-Turner, a familiar story executed with the precision of a People's Elbow to the heart, and as slice of entertainment equipped with the potential to finally drown out many of the negative stigmas associated with professional wrestling. Don't walk to the box office, Rampaige your way to the theater.
Editor's Note: You can see Jeremy Lambert's review at this link.
- From The Web