Kyle Carragher’s review published on Letterboxd:
If there’s one thing wrestling fans are used to, it’s disappointment. Whether that comes from the lackluster shows they’re given every week or the poor booking of their favourite superstars; it takes pretty thick skin to be a wrestling fan. This probably isn’t helped by how god-awful the craft is portrayed in the media and especially in film and this didn’t look likely to change when in 2017, Film 4 & WWE Studios announced that the duo that brought us the 2010 masterpiece ‘The Tooth Fairy’, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson & Stephen Merchant, would be bringing the true-life story of WWE superstar ‘Paige’ to the big screen. Based on the 2012 Channel 4 documentary ‘The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family’, the film follows the story of British wrestler ‘Paige’, from growing up in her wrestling-family household in Norwich, England all the way to her main roster debut in the WWE.
From 2002–2018, WWE Studios have unfortunately provided us with 55 films and it’s safe to say that 95% of them are awful and any of them with any entertainment value fall under the ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ banner. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is but I believe it’s due to the fact that WWE’s films feel like soulless products with no real effort, care or heart put into them, however, as they say, the 56th time’s the charm. With British comedy legend Stephen Merchant in the directors chair, ‘Fighting With My Family’ surprisingly has a huge heart and you can feel the passion that has clearly been put into it. I was so surprised when I discovered Merchant wasn’t a wrestling fan because he does something here many filmmakers don’t seem to do; treat wrestling with respect. With the exception of Darren Aronofsky, filmmaker’s either portray pro wrestling as a legitimate combat sport or an absolute joke. However, Merchant completely understands what wrestling is; it’s a soap opera in spandex.
The film switches between the two locations of Norwich, England and Orlando, Florida constantly and I think Merchant does a fantastic job of splicing together American humour and the dry-wit British humour he is so well known for. The juxtaposition between Norwich & Florida is done superbly and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin deserves a lot of credit for this for how well the lighting and colour pallete is contrasted between the two locations. As previously mentioned, the film is absolutely hilarious and I haven’t seen a crowd laugh so consistently throughout a film since 2018’s ‘Game Night’.
Another reason ‘Fighting With My Family’ firmly stands above WWE Studio’s other outings is because this film actually features actors that can… act. Florence Pugh is easily the highlight in the lead as ‘Paige’, shining during the comedic scenes just as much as the emotional ones. Jack Lowden also deserves a lot of credit for his fantastic performance of Paige’s brother, Zak, considering his character has possibly the most interesting arc in the film because although the film is the heartwarming underdog story of Paige’s journey to the big leagues, it’s also the heartbreaking tale of a brother who has had his childhood dream of becoming a WWE superstar crushed while having to see his own sister live out his dream and the dynamic is easily this films biggest strength. Although Pugh & Lowden and their dynamic steal the show, the supporting cast also deserve a lot of praise. Lena Headey and Nick Frost easily garner the most laughs from the audience as Paige’s parents and anyone who was a fan of Vince Vaughn’s ‘Sergeant Howell’ character from Hacksaw Ridge is probably going to love him here as Paige’s tough-going trainer ‘Hutch Morgan’.
The cast and script elevate ‘Fighting With My Family’ from your generic underdog sports movie but, the film still has a few minor issues. Firstly, any professional wrestling fan familiar with how the business works or Paige’s true life story will notice that there’s been a few minor tweaks that have been made to the story and continuity but thankfully it’s nothing to drastic. Another minor flaw was tone during some scenes. For the most part, the film manages to balance the dramatic & comedic aspects seamlessly but there were a couple of scenes that were played for laughs when the subject matter was actually pretty dark. The scene that encapsulated this the most was when Zak purposely started a fight in a bar. The scene originally seemed quite dark and gritty but when the fight kicks off, there is upbeat music played over the top of it and I don’t think this worked at all. However, the film’s biggest flaw was the handling of the final act. For the most part, ‘Fighting With My Family’ portrays wrestling expertly. The film clearly portrays wrestling as a scripted act but during the scene where Paige makes her main roster scene, the match was seemingly portrayed as an actual sporting event which was rather bizarre and it isn’t helped by some god awful green-screen. However, if that’s the films biggest flaw that just shows how great this film was.
Fighting With My Family has firmly cemented its place amongst the wrestling movie ‘Mount Rushmore’ alongside ‘The Wrestler’ and… just ‘The Wrestler’ I guess. A crowd pleasing family comedy that avoids underdog sporting film cliches that will be an absolute dream for wrestling fans and won’t alienate those who aren’t.