Everyone knows wrestling is fixed, stage for p ure entertainment, but behind the costumes, the death matches and the five moves of doom are real people. “Fighting with My Family,” a new comedy written and directed by Stephen Merchant, dropkicks one real life story from the ring to the big screen.
Norwich England native Saraya-Jade Bevis (Florence Pugh) comes from a wrestling family. Her parents Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey) a.k.a. Rowdy Ricky and Sweet Saraya and siblings all throw down in the ring. When WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) offers Saraya-Jade, known as Britani, and brother Zodiac Zak (Jack Lowden) a chance to audition it looks like they’re on the verge of going big time.
Well, at least one of them is.
After receiving some backstage advice from The Rock (who is also a producer on the film) and trying out, Hutch only calls one name, Saraya-Jade. Switching her name to the more American sounding Paige (inspired by the Rose McGowan character on “Charmed”) she begins in a training camp in Orlando where she will be assessed to see if she has the right stuff for the WWE. She’s an outsider who must fight for every win, both in and out of the ring. “Don’t worry about being the next me,” Says The Rock. “Be the first you.”
There are suplexes, trash talk galore, likeable actors like Nick Frost Lena Hadley and Vince Vaughn but it isn’t the wrestling moves and sports movie clichés that sell this movie. It’s the film’s beating heart, Florence Pugh, who plays Paige as a mix of empathy, ambition and self-doubt. Her path is a difficult one, from her brother’s jealousy to American audiences taunting her because of her jet-black hair, English accent and piercings. “Come on Ozzy Osbourne! Sing something!” We’ve seen this underdog character before, but by the time she says, “I am a freak. This belongs to the misfits who don’t belong,” it’s hard not to call a TKO on Pugh’s performance.
“Fighting with My Family” is about wrestling but like all good sports movies it isn’t just about what happens in the inevitable game or match at the end of the picture. It is a more universal story about outcasts who create community through sport and heart combined with the kind of “soap opera in spandex” storytelling that has made wrestling so popular.