Fighting with My Family | Stephen Merchant | February 14, 2019
Ever since they were children, Raya Bevis (Lady Macbeth‘s Florence Pugh) and Zak Bevis (Dunkirk & Mary Queen of Scots‘ Jack Lowden) dreamed of being professional wrestlers, one day sharing the spotlight in the WWE. These aspirations came in their family’s deep-rooted love of the sports, stemming from their parents (Edgar Wright go-to Nick Frost and Game Of Thrones‘ Lena Headey). As they’d say, wrestling is in their blood.
It’s literally their life. They run their own humble wrestling organization – World Association of Wrestling – in their hometown of Norwich, England, with all four partaking in family-themed wrestling matches at night. During the day, the family gives wrestling lessons to local kids in the community.
For this community, it’s a far stretch for anyone to imagine themselves headlining in the WWE, but it was one that many saw as a real possibility for the Bevis siblings. Only, when the WWE comes to England and holds tryouts for aspiring locals, it’s Raya who is chosen by WWE development coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn), not Zak. She pleads with him to take them as a package deal, even threatening not to go without him, realizing that this would be a devastating blow to her beloved big brother.
Hutch stands firm on the deal and it’s only Raya who is given the chance to come to Florida to join the NXE development league (minor league for wrestlers) and see if she has what it takes to make the big time. This causes an undeniable strain in the siblings’ relationship, with Raya not able to fully enjoy her good fortune and her brother slowly sinking into an understandably distraught state of being, even with a new baby boy on the way. Along with her inner turmoil, she is faced with the tough training regime, ultimately trying to prove that she belongs not only to everyone else but most importantly, herself.
This being the true story (based on the 2012 documentary of the same name) of the rise of WWE superstar Paige and a film about an unlikely rise in sports, it’s easy to predict all the beats and to know where it is going. Stephen Merchant doesn’t pull any tricks or deviate from the formulaic path of montages and obstacles and such, but gives the film enough genuine laughs and heart that it works to charming effect. Merchant’s screenplay navigates a fine balance between humor and dramatic beats, enough so to balance the more predictable aspects of the film.
The film rests on the performance of Florence Pugh, who is tasked with making her character both convincing as a wrestler but also someone kind who the audience can root for. She succeeds handily in selling the wrestling moves (along with her stunt double, Tessa Blanchard), as well as both the emotional and comedic beats that Merchant’s screenplay asks of her.
Equally winning is Jack Lowden’s performance as her brother; he is conflicted in trying to be happy for his sister, but understandably heartbroken that he has to watch his dream being experienced by someone so near and dear to him. Nick Frost and Lena Headey eat up their fun roles as their parents, and there’s some pretty strong work from Vince Vaughn who flashes a more serious side that he hasn’t in a while. And of course, there are a few brief in-character cameos from wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson, who also serves as an executive producer.
While Fighting with My Family isn’t anything new for the genre and at times can feel like an advert for WWE, it’s hard not to find yourself swept up by the feel-good nature of this true story. You don’t need to be a fan of wrestling to enjoy your time here, as it’s built to appeal to all audiences, even those who have no interest in the sport. It’s a universal story that works thanks to the fine efforts of Merchant and the strong performance from Pugh who proves once again that she is a star in the making.