FILM REVIEW: FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY wrestles with heart and determination in finding how far you’ll fight for your dream


There’s a certain love affair that filmmakers have with the concept of pro-wrestling; this passion play of competition that shares much in common with the catharsis of Greek theater by way of the unending battles of principle found in a comic book. It makes for great drama when done well on screen, whether exploring the duality of fighter versus the struggles of the individual behind that veneer in films like Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler or similarly in the world of MMA as in Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior. Stephen Merchant’s Fighting With My Family (based on a Channel 4 documentary called The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family) shares that same fascination, and much like O’Connor and Aronofsky’s films, mines the struggling dual-identity dichotomy between wrestler and individual for gold in terms of crafting a compelling character study with some real depth behind it.

Fighting with My Family is primarily the story of Saraya Bevis (Florence Pugh), the youngest in the family of English wrestlers in Norwich, England. Wrestling as Brittani Knight, she and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are her family’s big hope for pro-wrestling stardom and success across the sea in America with the WWE, the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. Saraya’s father Ricky (played by Nick Frost) is the patriarch of their wrestling family, as he founded and runs a local wrestling promotion called World Association of Wrestling with his wife Julia (Lena Headey), both local wrestling legends who want their dreams to live on through their children (Julia names her daughter Saraya after her wrestling persona). Though Zak and Saraya are the stars of their family’s promotion, with Zak also serving as the trainer for their wrestling school mentoring local youth, their father makes a call to WWE to try and get the two a spot abroad. When WWE and NXT trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) makes the call that Saraya will get a spot in the WWE rechristened as Paige (after Rose McGowan’s witch character from the 90’s TV show Charmed) and not Zak, the bonds of their family will be tested and the Knight clan finds out whether their family is strong enough to withstand the loss of Paige to the US and Zak to the worst angels of his nature.

Merchant’s adaptation of the life story of the Knight family is helped largely because the family is a collection of larger-than-life characters whose story translates well to the big screen. Ricky is a boisterous wrestling braggadocio with Headey’s Julia as the Courtney Love to his Kurt Cobain. But its the chemistry that the 2 have on-screen as partners and parents that really makes the heart of the film work. Similarly, Pugh’s performance as Paige resonates well because we see her struggle with being an outcast as a teen in the “weird wrestling family” growing up in Norwich and how that translates to her feeling like an outcast in the WWE’s NXT training camp surrounded by tanned blonde fitness models and cheerleaders who she assumes are the next incarnation of “Mean Girls” she has to overcome. Similarly, Lowden’s Zak has to struggle with the idea that his sister has succeeded at his lifelong dream while he is told he’ll never have what it takes.

Much like The Wrestler, Fighting with My Family looks at the low points of being a wrestler; having to struggle and toil on the indies and having a fulfilling life inside the ring, but struggles outside of it. Zak’s arc deals with how he feels the only thing he’s ever been good at is being a character in the ring but lost outside of it and not even being a role model to the kids in his training camp is enough. Similarly, Paige defines herself as a wrestler from an old-school mode, where wrestlers who can’t learn get receipts and outsiders to the lifelike models are only using it as a shortcut to fame and don’t really belong. The film really explores the role of gatekeepers and whether that idea is still relevant in a world where everyone can find out the ins-and-outs of wrestling from the internet. Given that WWE Films produced the film, Paige’s story is streamlined a bit to make the film more of an introduction to the inner world of wrestling for those that don’t follow the WWE’s various behind-the-curtains TV shows like Total Bellas and present the WWE as a progressive entity. But despite the film’s leaning a bit toward hagiography at the end – overall, the film’s story of family and redemption rings true much like films like Warrior or Creed. Longtime WWE fans will likely roll eyes a bit at some of the films restructuring of history (Paige’s indie and NXT history is largely excised for terms of narrative, the anachronism of Paige’s having a handmade Divas title as a child with Chris Benoit action figures, while Vaughn’s Hutch character is a portmanteau of various WWE figures, namely Bill DeMott, and Dusty Rhodes with a liberal dose of Mick Foley’s backstory). That being said, the story the film tells is a good one; an empowering sports tale in the vein of films like Lords of Dogtown that translate a niche sporting world to a broader audience beyond the cult of the hardcore wrestling fan and open the doors of the WWE to new eyes who largely know it as the thing The Rock did before he was famous.


FINAL RUNDOWN: Fighting with My Family is a great family story and sports film that tugs at the heartstrings. While its backstory is one with a revisionist’s touch, it still works and delivers an engaging tale with relatable characters and strong performances with good chemistry.

– Fighting with My Family opens February 21st in theaters