None of us gets the chance to choose the family we’re born into. The new movie “Fighting With My Family” shines a light on a particularly unusual one — the hardscrabble, working-class British family that served up pro wrestling’s top league, the WWE, with its first female superstar, Paige.
Detailing Paige’s story, and how she and her family struggled, but held together in loving support, during her arduous rise to fame, “Family” is terrific entertainment for teens and adults and a great movie for family members of those age ranges to see together.
Paige (Florence Pugh) is the teen daughter alongside two brothers, Zak and Nick, in a unique working-class family that runs its own low-rent wrestling league in a run-down area of England. They watch WWE wrestling from America regularly and with gusto, and dream of sending Paige and Zak to the States to wrestle there. But a sad reality has already affected them — the oldest son Nick is spending years in prison for a violent drug-fueled rampage he went on after being rejected at a WWE audition years before.
Paige and Zak nonetheless submit their videos regularly, hoping for an audition, until one night they get a call telling them to come out, as the American talent scout and coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn) is coming to London. They excitedly attend, and even more excitedly bump into Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who executive produced the movie) and receive encouragement from him to become their own star creation: “Don’t be the next Rock. Be the first you.”
In a brutal but funny audition, a big group of hopefuls face off against each other, but in the end Hutch only picks Paige. Period. Her brother Zak is devastated and, facing a continued life of hardship with his pregnant girlfriend, spirals into depression and loses his sense of purpose in helping poor young kids avoid street trouble through wrestling lessons in the family’s academy.
Paige heads for her new challenge: facing off against dozens more people in America for the final cut making it in the WWE’s biggest matches. Along the way, she faces particular opposition from four blonde Americans who she believes hate her — but winds up learning lessons in empathy and teamwork along the way.
“Fighting With My Family” is a surprisingly vibrant and extremely entertaining film, far better than one would have any right to expect when hearing that it’s about the life of a pro wrestler. The reason for this is not only the terrific performance of Pugh in the lead — a star-making turn that’s funny and fierce, yet emotionally affecting when it needs to be — but the fact that it’s written and directed by Stephen Merchant, who is widely considered a comedic genius for co-creating the British version of the classic sitcom “The Office.”
Merchant knows how to make all manner of people come to life in a deeply human way, and then find the humor in them as individuals. He digs deep into the financial struggles and personal pains of Paige’s family, where her father (Nick Frost) is a former convicted thief and her mother (Lena Headey) was a drug abuser until love with her husband straightened her out.
Thus with all the life pitfalls surrounding Paige, as she sees one brother in prison and another facing life as an unexpected young father, the movie makes the stakes incredibly real for the young dreamer. This gives the audience a tremendous amount of rooting interest for her that matches the spirit of the best sports underdog movies like “Rocky.”
Vince Vaughn nearly steals the movie with his best and funniest performance in years as the fast-talking coach. Combined with an impressively slimmed-down physique, he looks and acts nearly as great as he did in his 1996 debut with “Swingers,” and this should be a big comeback for the Catholic actor.
The movie does feature a fair amount of mid-level foul language throughout, but no F-words, while also having several crude taunts that involve sex or bodily functions. But these are mitigated by the fact that all fit the context of the characters’ rough lives and limited formal educations.
The violence is all of the toss-about wrestling variety and there’s no sex on or offscreen, so overall this is a movie most should not be offended by, while serving up healthy doses of positive lessons in family, forgiveness, teamwork, empathy for strangers, and entrepreneurship paying off.
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