Stephen Merchant (director)
1h 48mins (length)
28 February 2019 (released)
02 March 2019
Inspired by the 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family, comedian Stephen Merchant has written and directed a comedy about real-life wrestler Saraya Bevis, best known by her stage name Paige.
Pugh stars as Saraya, who grows up in a family of wrestlers, with her parents Patrick 'Rowdy Ricky Knight' (Nick Frost) and Julia 'Sweet Saraya' (Lena Headey) hosting local wrestling matches in their hometown of Norwich, while she and her brother Zak 'Zodiac' (Jack Lowden) help run classes.
One day, a representative for America's famous WWE promotion calls and offers Saraya and Zak the opportunity to come to London for tryouts with coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn). Only Saraya - now known as Paige - gets through to the NXT, the WWE's Florida-based developmental arm.
In America, Paige has to battle loneliness and feeling like an outsider next to the other model-like female wrestlers, while Zak struggles to accept that his dream is over and begins to resent his sibling.
However, there is a happy end to the tale, and, as many WWE fans will know, Paige overcomes the odds and goes on to become the youngest-ever WWE Divas Champion at the age of 21.
This film follows the well-worn path of inspirational sports biopics and rags-to-riches tales, but it still feels fresh and original because the characters in the family are so unique, brash and barmy that their dynamic is fun and a joy to watch.
Pugh broke through with her performance in period piece Lady Macbeth so it is refreshing to see her doing something completely different and proving that she can play any kind of role. She is a warm, captivating lead who you root for throughout.
Frost is at his comedic best and he has a hilarious rapport with Headey, who Game of Thrones fans will barely recognise with a lip ring and pink and black hair dye, while Lowden and Pugh are the emotional heart of the film as a supportive, loving, sibling duo torn apart by jealousy. Their brother-sister relationship felt realistic in a way that's rarely seen on screen. Vaughn was a welcome addition as the tough coach who puts them through their paces in the NXT.
The marketing campaign for this film makes a big deal of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's appearance, making it seem like he's the star of show when he appears in two or three scenes. His cameos are fun and his executive producer credit is probably the reason this film got made, but they take you out of the story and it loses its realism. Also, he never met Saraya/Paige in real life and their wrestling careers don't cross over much so the filmmakers take some liberties with the story to include him.
Like all good sporting biopics, Fighting with My Family is inspirational and leaves you in good spirits. The ending lacked a certain emotional punch, but the journey to get there was uplifting and highly entertaining.