Dwayne Johnson, Entertainment, Fighting With My Family, Movies, Sundance 2019

WWE dramedy ‘Fighting With My Family’ is a rowdy charmer: Review

Lena Headey, Florence Pugh, and Nick Frost in Fighting With My Family.

Image: Sundance Institute

Maybe it is true that all happy families are alike, deep down. But the Knights — the wrestling clan at the center of Fighting With My Family – are at least idiosyncratic and endearing enough to make themselves worth watching, even if their tale feels like one we’ve seen many times before.

Based on a 2012 documentary, Fighting With My Family traces the rise of wrestling superstar Paige, from her beginnings on the British indie circuit with her brother and parents (all of whom are also pro wrestlers) to her WWE debut. 

At its core, Fighting With My Family is a quirky-family dramedy combined with an underdog-sports-star biopic. The plot moves along a predictable path; you can probably guess from the first minutes exactly where this film is headed even if you’ve never heard of Paige. But it’s the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, something familiar and unfussy that’ll nevertheless leave you satisfied.

Paige, or Raya to her family, is a woman of many layers – bold on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, and tough underneath that – and Florence Pugh ties them together seamlessly. Lena Headey and Nick Frost, meanwhile, seem to be having a blast as Raya’s parents, Julia and Ricky Knight, dialing up the color and cheer without tipping over into caricature. 

Fighting With My Family

Image: Sundance Institute

Along with Jack Lowden, who plays Paige’s brother Zak, the foursome share a cozy chemistry that not only sells the idea that they’re a family, but invites you to pull up and join the family, too. 

If that easy intimacy is a source of strength for Fighting With My Family, its greatest weakness is the nakedly commercial instincts that engineered it. The extended cameo appearance by executive producer Dwayne Johnson move some tickets, but it’s too distracting to work in context. 

More irritating still is its exaltation of the WWE as a benevolent dream machine that can do no wrong. Sure, it makes sense that Paige and her family would consider the WWE the pinnacle of their industry. But do they have to sound so much like an infomercial when they’re talking about it? 

Thankfully, the movie snaps back into focus once Paige heads to Florida to join the organization’s NXT program. The character’s intense loneliness and fear of failure will ring true to anyone who’s ever gone out on a limb to reach for bigger and better things. Running in parallel with Paige’s ascension is Zak’s downslide, after he’s confronted with the harsh truth that the dream he’s worked so hard to achieve may never come true.

It’s these emotional arcs, not the plot specifics, that drive the story. By the time it gets to the uplifting conclusion, you’ll probably notice the narrative doesn’t make a ton of sense (I’m not a WWE fan, but even I’m pretty sure that’s not how wrestling works), but you’ll also probably be too engrossed to care. Like the Knights themselves, Fighting With My Family is shaggy, flawed, and relentlessly charming.

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