Uncovering Star Power: Our Review of ‘Fighting With My Family’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 21, 2019
Uncovering Star Power: Our Review of ‘Fighting With My Family’

A young woman (Florence Pugh) and her brother, Zak ‘Zodiac’ Bevis (Jack Lowden), come from a family of wrestlers. They also perform and teach with a local league in Norwich, England. Like most wrestlers though, their dream is to perform in the big tine with the WWE. Coincidentally, the NXT, a farm division of the WWE, comes to England to look for new talent. When she and Zak try out, scout Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) asks her what her name is. She says Britani, no Paige. To Hutch, Paige sounds like a perfume counter saleswoman. But Paige has been using that name locally and she sticks with it.

Like many sports biopics, Fighting with My Family has a latent focuses on its protagonist’ quest to find their identity. But as the title indicates, the past creeps in to their lives. During most of the movie, other characters refer to then NXT hopeful Paige as Paige, but her real name is Saraya Bevis. She gets her first name from her mother’s professional name, ‘Sweet Saraya’ Knight (Lena Headey). Her attachment to her family is so strong that she almost gives up the opportunity to try out with NXT because they let her in and not Zak. The NXT, inadvertently, separates her from her tight-knit family.

Zak quickly convinces Paige to train for the NXT in Florida. Coming into the hotel, she finds women who look like models who initially like her because she’s British. Stephen Merchant’s script has fun with the culture clashes, as the Diva wannabes make her read a news article about orphans in a fire, a tragedy that the Divas don’t care about because of her cute accent. But Paige soon realizes that she’s the only candidate in the tryouts who has wrestling training. This lack of experience leads the other women to inadvertently physically hurt her, and she lashes out. This is one of the few things that make her miss her family.

While Fighting With My Family shows Paige eating dirt and feeling homesick, it also switches to show the family she left behind. Zak keeps calling Hutch to see if his new audition tapes made them rethink their first impression of him, to which Hutch says no. He gets a girlfriend and a son, who he tries to support by training teenagers to become wrestlers. He also participates in fights that might give him a career ending injury one day, the kind of fights that Hutch warns Paige about. Paige and Zak are living their own spirals, feeling as if their dreams are not achievable. Everyone relates to that.

Fighting with my Family is Merchant’s writing and directorial debut. What he does best here is to showcase Pugh’s star quality. There are a lot of shots that show off her charisma without it coming off as male gaze-y. He surprisingly incorporates that with the old trope that Paige  is a small fish in America’s big pond. Pugh already belongs to a generation of unconventional actresses. But she separates herself from them with a fearlessness that many audiences like. She imbues an intelligence within Paige, doing so in scenes where she teaches wrestling moves to women she’s competing against.

Merchant also tries to show Paige’s working class roots. And sure, British cinema today is slightly more class conscious and to a lesser extent, more diverse. But this also feels like a sanitary version of proletarian Britain. The surfaces here feel so clean that differences between sunny Florida and the streets of Norwich feel minuscule here. It might be because Merchant is a part of his generation the edges that British cinema had two decades ago. It might also be because of the film’s producers and their WWE background who want a palatable version of a country and social class that American audiences can accept.

Merchant and the WWE’s version of Paige’s life also has its simplistic trajectories. Fighting with my Family‘s version of Paige is an outsider, unable to fit in with the clique-y divas who she eventually befriends. Audiences and critics who know more about wrestling might want a more complex and truthful version of this biopic. Latent fans of wrestling might also just do their own research to see that some of Paige’s ups and downs might have also fit into this film. There’s also a scene where Paige derides cheerleaders, which by the way, cheer leading is more dangerous than wrestling.

Despite all of that, the WWE picked an interesting subject. Most sports biopics end with a victor. But Paige is obscure enough for mainstream audiences. That means that there’s room to show the specifics of her origins, no mater how much this film dilutes that. And even the choice to dilute this version of her life is better than the opposite, poverty porn approach that edgier directors would have in mind. There’s also still that tension of whether or not she ends up wins. It’s still enjoyable to watch her take every step towards the championship she dreamed of as a child.

  • Release Date: 2/21/2019
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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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