There are so many movies about people who want to be singers, dancers, etc. There are far fewer about people who want to be professional wrestlers. There’s The Wrestler, and a Japanese movie called Gachi Boi, and I guess Ready to Rumble.
So why not honor WWE Diva Paige with her own biopic? Unfortunately, Paige and her family’s success story gets watered down by the Hollywood machine.
Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) grows up wrestling with her father Ricky (Nick Frost), mother Julia (Lena Heady) and brother Zak (Jack Lowden) performing in the Norwich wrestling league the World Association of Wrestling.
Zak and Saraya dream of making it in the WWE, and get the chance to audition when WWE comes to England. Only Saraya gets picked though, and adopts the ring name Paige to train with NXT.
The Knights are an endearing family. The love and support is there, with some comedic dysfunction as they embarrass Zak’s stuffy in-laws and hustle their business. Fighting with my Family shows the craft wrestlers put into the performance, and there are some great training montages.
Paige isn’t a sure thing. She has limits to her strength and speed, and seems to develop stage fright late in the movie after having performed all her life and in front of the WWE coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn) to even get there. She doesn’t get along with the vapid blonde NXT hopefuls either.
It starts to get really formulaic when they drop backstories on some of Paige’s NXT rivals and that’s supposed to make them full characters. I mean, don’t judge a book by its cover, but the movie is constructing the cover.
When Hutch’s backstory is revealed, it is so heavy-handed. Like, oh, that’s why he’s so mean? Come on.
Zak supports Paige making it, but gradually spirals. Teaching Zak to appreciate what he has in London, even if he never achieves the WWE, is right, but it’s trite when Paige just tells him all the things he has going for him.
Pugh is great. She captures the layers of Paige, a strong fighter still with her own insecurities, passion mixed with guilt over making it further than the rest of her family, not to mention selling the moves in the ring. Lowden, Frost and Heady are all very natural too.
The WWE creates compelling stories every night in front of live audiences. Sure, there are formulas, but they come up with new twists on them. Why can’t Hollywood make a biopic that feels like a real journey? They could have just remade the documentary shot for shot if this was the best they could come up with.
Fighting with my Family will be in theaters February 14.