We missed Fighting with My Family when it made its theatrical debut back in February, so we’re taking a look at it now, after its digital release because — as it turns out — it’s a movie much more suited to our living rooms, laptops, smartphones, and on airplanes.
That’s not a knock against Fighting with My Family, a formulaic but enjoyable sports film inspired by the WWE career of professional wrestler Paige, played here by Florence Pugh. Based on a documentary by Max Fisher, Fighting with My Family was adapted and directed by Stephen Merchant (co-creator of the original British The Office), who also plays a small role in the film.
The film is initially set in Norwich, England back in the aughts, where Paige and her brother, Zak, are not just obsessed with wrestling, but wrestled together as teenagers in the British independent circuit, some sort of wrestling outfit operated by their parents, Julia (Lena Headey) and Patrick (Nick Frost), who steal every scene they’re in as a couple equally devoted to both wrestling and their family. It’s Paige and Zak’s lifelong dream to sign onto the WWE in America, and when Paige is 18, they’re given an opportunity to try out for Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), a recruiter and trainer for the WWE. Before the audition, Zak and Paige get some advice from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who also makes another brief appearance later in the film), but only Paige is ultimately selected to move on.
As wrestling in the WWE is a lifelong dream for both siblings, there is some initial bitterness on Zak’s part; in America, meanwhile, Paige can’t seem to find her own identity separate from her brother while she’s training. Most of the film’s second act alternates back and forth between Zack’s mopey struggles in Norwich and Paige’s inability to connect with the other female wrestlers in America. If you’ve ever seen a sports film, however, you probably know where this all ends up (or you could read the Wikipedia entry on Paige).
It is predictable, but it is also endearing and immensely likable. Pugh turns in a solid, likable performance as Paige, while Vince Vaughn is surprisingly great in the role as both the cutthroat recruiter and a comforting mentor — he brings much of the humor and the heart to Fighting with My Family, although it’s Nick Frost and Lena Headey who are the real reason to watch if you’re not a wrestling fan (I am not). They’re like Coach and Tami Taylor, if Coach and Tami Taylor were foul-mouthed British working-class rednecks.
Moviegoers were wise to skip Fighting with My Family in theaters where it only earned $22 million domestic, but it is absolutely worth the price of a digital rental, whether you’re familiar with Paige and the WWE or not. It’s not a huge crowd pleaser, but there’s enough here to please those surrounding your living room television.
Header Image Source: MGM