Sports Film Formula;
Great Family Dynamic;
Always Be Yourself.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a massive, lifelong, unapologetically unashamed pro wrestling fanatic. In a way, I am the precise target for this movie, but at the same time, I’m the exact kind of person that shouldn’t see it, because my hopes are unrealistic and I am going to be far too analytical. This is something I had been looking forward to for some time, and while I had some issues with the way the story was presented, I left the theater with a smile on my face.
Wrestling and filmmaking have an essential ingredient in their core that mirror each other: the need to convince an audience that something they know is scripted is real. The idea is to immerse people in the story just enough to guarantee emotional investment and make them drop their guard. Movies being the more respected artistic medium, this process can be much easier, especially since films aren’t made in real time in front of a live audience. Both endeavors share the goal of leaving their audience happy, and when the right talent carry marry those two worlds on both sides of the camera, the results can be very good. Oddly enough, being such a huge fan of the sport may have made me enjoy the film a little bit less than I might have otherwise, because I’m too close to the subject matter, as well as the story presented in the script.
Stepen Merchant has written a screenplay that, while clearly formulaic, hits all the notes of an inspirational sports drama, with loads of comedy mixed in to keep things light. He wisely focuses less on the actual wrestling and more on Saraya (Florence Pugh) and her journey to the WWE, as well as the wonderful family dynamic with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) and her parents (played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey). Their scenes together are when the film is at its best, as they find humor in and draw strength from each other. Their family lives and breathes wrestling, and Saraya making it to the biggest stage means the world to them. It’s not new ground as far as movies go, but pro wrestling is a different subject matter than we are used to with this genre. Merchant skips over what gave Paige (Saraya’s character) such a buzz within NXT, jumping from her training to her crowning moment where she debuted on Raw and won the Divas Championship on her first night on the main roster, which may only feel like an odd choice to diehard fans like myself. But she built something from the ground up in a time where most of the female WWE talent was comprised of ex-models and cheerleaders and had to struggle for even the most minor chunks of TV airtime. She helped tremendously with what we now call the Women’s Revolution (as it pertains to WWE fandom), and it started long before she became the youngest female champion in WWE history. Additionally, shooting her climactic moment as a real fight (as though she wasn’t made aware of her win beforehand, which obviously she was) feels like a betrayal of the product, but for cinematic purposes, I understand choosing that route. I have to remember that I am not the only type of person this film is aimed at.
This is a very enjoyable film, even when it paints by the numbers. With Dwayne Johnson producing a story about a wrestling family, it would have been hard to swing and miss, but even still, Merchant deserves a lot of credit for taking on a subject so often sneered at and looked down upon and turning in something this well-made. The comedy is sharp and on-point, the acting is unanimously good (Vince Vaughn as head of NXT developmental training nailed his supporting role as well), and everyone involved comes out of this looking great. The film is able to pay fitting tribute to the pro wrestling world without needing to dive headlong into it, instead remaining a character-driven story about a family’s journey from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the heap. I hope this leads to more prominent work for Pugh and Lowden, who excelled in their sibling roles and really sold the dream of a family that never gave up.
Fighting With My Family is Written and Directed by Stephen Merchant