If you’ve got a dream, then you’ve gotta be willing to fight for it and no one exemplifies this more than professional wrestler Saraya Knight, better known as Paige, who beats out all the odds to accomplish not only her dreams, but those of her family in the ultimate underdog done good story in Fighting With My Family.
Based on a true story, Fighting With My Family follows reformed gangster Ricky (Nick Frost), wife Julia (Lena Headey), daughter Paige (Florence Pugh) and son Zak (Jack Lowden) as they make a living wrestling together in tiny venues. When Paige and Zak get the opportunity to try out for WWE, the family grabs a once-in-a-lifetime chance to turn their wildest dreams into a dazzling future. However, brother and sister quickly discover that to become superstars, both their talent and their relationship will be put to the test.
Stephen Merchant steps behind the camera here with Fighting With My Family and his all-around comedic genius brings an incredible amount of passion to this astounding true-life story. As a filmmaker, Merchant constructs two unique worlds: the bruising working class of Norwich, England where the Knight family call home and the bright lights and glam of the WWE. And merging these two worlds together is the central character of Florence Pugh’s Paige who finds herself on the way to becoming a championship wrestler through a whole lot of grit and desire.
As a director, Merchant has a full handle over his story and really works hard to get at the drama and emotions that drive this family in their pursuit of a seemingly unobtainable dream. Whether it’s the film’s crackling comedic timing or it’s high-flying wrestling footage, Fighting With My Family delivers everything with a hundred percent and not a moment is wasted up on screen.
Taking to the mat in Fighting With My Family is rising star Florence Pugh and with her role as Saraya Knight, Pugh proves why she is regarded as one of the most in demand talents working today. This young actress invests herself heavily into the role of Saraya and her journey to become Paige is truly transformative.
If I were to use a word that would best describe Pugh’s performance as Paige then it is definitely authentic. Watching her onscreen you just buy into the believeability of her performance and this crazy carny-like life that she has lived, which has shaped her into the woman that she is. If there is anything that drives Paige in her quest to the top then it’s definitely her love for her family, and this helps drive her inner resolve to make it to the top.
Along with Pugh’s broad emotional range that she brings to the project, the actress also dives head first into the physicality of the part and that means a whole lot of pain and gain. Pugh really goes for it with the film’s demanding physical needs and whether it’s the grueling training that she has to endure under the heat of the Florida sun or learning the art of the sell, Fighting With My Family gives audiences an insight into the willpower and tenacity that professional wrestlers have to call upon.
Joining Pugh’s Paige in her quest for the top is Jack Lowden who stars as her brother and all-around wrestling freak Zak Knight, known ringside as Zak Zodiac. But Zak has a serious wake-up call when his life takes a different turn and this is where Lowden’s performance really steps up.
When he comes face-to-face with the idea that he’ll never be anything more than a journey man wrestler, Zak takes a really dark turn and it’s here that Fighting With My Family finds a lot of its resonance with it’s audience. Zak’s pain, loss and envy is a stand-in for all those who have seen their own dreams pulled forth from them in a situation that is completely out of their own hands, and Lowden’s honest and pained performance really drives home the loss that he feels. But it’s not all doom and gloom for Zak, and with the help of his sister he’s able to open his eyes to all the good things in his life and is able to champion his sister to her own success.
Completing the Knight Family are Lena Headey and Nick Frost as Julia “Sweet Saraya” Knight and Patrick “Rowdy Ricky” Knight, and these talented performers really fill in the spot of Mum and Dad on-screen. Loud, uncouth and completely off script, both Julie and Ricky share in the ringmaster identity of their carny-like wrestling business, the WAW, and both have a non-stop enthusiasm that they give to their children, and this results in plenty of hilarious moments.
You couldn’t find a better on-screen couple than Headey and Frost and their performances are down right perfect as their inner comedic talent come out. Chief amongst this is Frost’s gruff working man demeanor and complete inappropriateness which will have you in stitches, and Headey’s motherly advice, which is particularly rough around the edges. These two definitely put the ‘family’ in Fighting With My Family and the film is a far richer experience because of it.
Providing the film with plenty of tension is Vince Vaughn who arrives onto the mat as no-nonsense WWE trainer and selector Hutch Morgan and he gives Paige a considerable challenge in the film. But while Hutch might appear to be one way on the surface, he’s got his own story to tell, and this is where the film’s story and Merchant’s direction really shines through. There are no clear antagonists in Fighting With My Family and it’s more about everyone’s own unique story and the thematic idea of ‘not judging a book by it’s cover’ that shines through here with both Hutch’s character, and Paige’s fellow female trainees.
Finally Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson brings his real world likeness to the film as this 260 pound Jiminy Cricket-like figure who offers Paige plenty of sage like advice on her quest to compete in the WWE and the mega star is having a ball here. Bounding with his whup-ass personality, Johnson is the spiritual godfather to Paige and Zak and it’s fun to see him in this mentor-like position as he encourages Paige to go for it in the ring and present her truest self to WWE fans.
Fighting With My Family is a real example of the underdog spirit, and it’s a narrative that the audience will really get caught up in. The highs are big and the lows are raw, and all of this results in a film that illustrates how the idea of strength in numbers is always more important than the lone achiever. While Paige is the central focus of the film’s success, you see that her rise to the top comes from those around her and that all of her success has been led by the love of her family, and it’s this crazy love, and I do mean crazy, which leads her to the lights of Wrestlemania.
And while there is plenty of drama going on in Fighting With My Family, and things do get heavy on occasion, this drama is definitely trumped by the tremendous comedy Merchant puts on screen. With the Knight family’s odd-ball, carny lifestyle and the spot on timing from Lena Headey and Nick Frost, you’ll find yourself in stitches. Seriously you can’t make this kind of comedy up and Merchant has selectively taken pieces from the film’s documentary basis and incorporated it into the film and the result is a crazy amount of fun for a family for whom wrestling is an undeniable passion.
If you’re seeking a film that will get you pumped up and amped for plenty of fun, then Fighting With My Family is the perfect watch. Championing the underdog spirit and celebrating the power of being yourself, Fighting With My Family is cinema done right and you’ll feel unstoppable after you come out of the cinema after watching this triumphant success.
Image: Universal Pictures