Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Fighting With My Family (2019) Shines A Light on Sharing The Dream

Fighting With My Family review
Universal Pictures
Thousands of screaming fans. Electrifying feuds. Bold outfits. Audacious athleticism. Wrestling is larger than life. Taking the glitz and glamour down a notch, Fighting with My Family shows what happens when fans dare to walk the path their heroes paved and become icons themselves.

Based on the real life story, eighteen year old Saraya-Jade Bevis - popularly known as Paige - (Florence Pugh) who aspires to be a wrestler, is discovered by the WWE and becomes their youngest champion ever. Hailing from a small town in Norwich, England, Paige's dreams are not entirely her own. She shares them with her family - dad Ricky (Nick Frost) and mom Julia (Lena Headey) who run their own wrestling association, and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) who misses out on making his own fantasies as a WWE Superstar come true.

As the Knight family says throughout the film, “Some people find religion. We found wrestling as our salvation.”  The heart of the movie is the family, and a young woman, who want nothing but to bask in the bright lights of the WWE. The film truly comes alive not just in the journey of Paige, who is learning to be herself in the ring and working well with others, but also that of her family who are with her every step of the way. Leading the film, Florence Pugh does a wonderful job capturing Paige's outspoken spirit and introvertedness, and trying to prove her no-holds-barred coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) wrong. It's hard to not be blown away by the sheer determination she and other wrestlers have in order to become so well-versed from talking on the mic to not injuring another athlete that everything becomes second nature. To leave her family behind in England to train in WWE's development center in Florida, the film takes its time to explore her feelings of being lonely, thinking of giving up, and trying to claim a spot in the industry for herself.

As much as the film focuses on Paige's debut in-the-making, it also explores what happens when her brother Zak doesn't make the cut. This side of the story shares what happens when things don't work out the way you think they will - the questions and doubts that come along about self-worth and failure. Zak has a choice to make: let his life fall apart or recognize other ways he can live out his dreams like continue to give kids on the streets a few hours of freedom and fun in his parent's wrestling association. The different roads the characters take lets us see both Paige and Zak transform from working together to seeing if they have what it takes to be a star in their own ways. The whole cast has a great camaraderie, adopting the family's real one-of-a-kind spirit and making you believe they're in the fight together.

As much as the cast is great, the movie also benefits from a well-rounded script and direction by Stephen Merchant. On the surface, it's been billed as a pure comedy, but it also tenderly observes wrestling and its unconventional community from different angles - there's more than meets the eye with models who have less experience than Paige, small towns who rely on wrestling as an escape, and the passion it takes to become an athletic entertainer. In a lot of ways, wrestling becomes its own character from the physical stamina it takes to be a good superstar to the live footage used with real thousands of fans. The film also doesn't make a point to single Paige out as better than her brother or other men in general - a non-feminist move I think general culture is making a lot these days - just that she's good in general, which I truly loved. Merchant offers enough for everyone - drama, laugh-loud-comedy, and  action - to be a joyful and relatable rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.

Similar to most biopics, liberties are taken with the timeline. The alterations, which include combining several characters into one and accelerating Paige's career between training and her debut,  don't inhibit aficionados from enjoying it (unless they love holding onto grudges), nor does it alienate itself from people who aren't wrestling fans. (I would've preferred a more detailed epilogue  because Paige's has persevered through other feats since she debuted). As much as the smaller details were changed, there's a real passion to treat the story as real as any other subject - a great credit of this goes towards The Rock, who saw the potential in the family's documentary to make a movie, and Merchant who treated it as a layered story to celebrate.

From generation to generation, and the love between wrestlers and their fans, wrestling is a family business. As much as I loved it as a WWE fan, it's something that even non-fans can enjoy, and maybe it'll reintroduce that being a wrestler takes true dedication as much as any other athlete in sports. My sister, who is mostly familiar with WWE through me, could still watch it and follow along - so you don't have to be a hardcore fan to enjoy it. In contrast to Darren Aronofsky's heartbreaking drama The Wrestler about a retired wrestler's flailing health, or the obvious connection of The Rock as a former iconic wrestler turned film star, Fighting With My Family lands in the middle as a story for every underdog - people who fought for a dream that didn't exactly fit them, parents who wants their kids to succeed, and young girls who transform into the warriors they fight to become.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Fighting With My Family

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