Fighting With My Family (2019)
Director: Stephen Merchant | Runtime: 1h 48mins | Biography, Comedy, Drama
Based on the true story of professional wrestler Paige, Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) who performs at her parents family run local wrestling promotion in Norwich. Whilst teaching young kids the trade, Saraya and her brother Zak (Thomas Whilley) dream of making it big in the WWE.
To see one of the production companies as WWE Studio’s, one might be forgiven for immediately turning away from Fighting With My Family. After all, they’ve brought such classics as The Marine (2006) and Welcome To The Jungle (2003) to the big screen, and never slow down on their releases – The Marine has five sequels. However, with production companies like MGM and Film4 this had more in its favour than those just mentioned. Attach a writer/director with some of the best credits in British TV since the early 2000’s and you’ve grabbed a lot of attention. So what was the outcome?
Fighting With My Family is a pretty formulaic for a sports biopic, but what really sets this apart from the rest is two fold; the content of wrestling and a huge amount of heart. With the latter, so much comes down to the earnest portrayal of Saraya by Pugh, owning the screen with charisma and a warmth that is surprisingly effective. An aspect missing from similar productions is the treatment of her family, we really get to feel the sort of relationship between Saraya and her parents, as well as the close bond between her and her brother. There are plenty of fairly telegraphed beats throughout with little shock, but because of the engaging leads and charming wit it’s far more engrossing than films before it.
In terms of the wrestling content, Merchant has managed to create the topic an area of interest for those who watch wrestling and those completely in the dark. There is no former knowledge required to understand the industry, all important details are laid out but without insulting the intelligence of the audience. We still feel very much involved in the nuts and bolts of the industry.
Through all the advertisement, you wouldn’t be mistaken for assuming Dwayne Johnson plays a more important role. Aside from two entertaining scenes, he’s far more occupied with his behind the camera role as producer. One in particular – in which he brings his late 90’s, early 2000’s charisma as The Rock to Saraya and Zak backstage at a live show – was used a lot to promote the film, and although it’s highly entertaining, it misleads his involvement with the piece.
It explores the nature of not fitting in, being the outlier in crowd without condescending those characters. Saraya and her family aren’t ‘freaks’ (even if a few one-off sequences include the term thrown at them), but instead are misunderstood by others and misunderstand them in turn. It falls into a few cliches, such as the clique group of model-esque female wrestlers, but even these have a charming turn that Saraya misconceives.
Coming in at under two hours, Fighting With My Family leaves you with the typical title cards for a biopic telling you about the real people the film is based on (the Johnson one leaves me wondering whether his ego is huge or it’s a parody of the cards themselves), and some sweet footage of the real Saraya and her family. It’s charming, funny, and slightly heartbreaking if you read into how she had to cut it all short, but a great piece on an industry not explored by mainstream audiences through the eyes of a engaging young talent.