Director: Stephen Merchant
Starring: Florence Pugh, Nick Frost, Vince Vaughan
Running time: 148 mins
Paige (real name Saraya-Jade Bevis) is a name synonymous with WWE’s recent women’s revolution as the British ‘anti-diva’, who quickly climbed the ranks after signing with the wrestling giant in 2011. Paige became not only the first person to hold the NXT women’s championship (WWE’s developmental territory) but also the NXT and WWE Diva’s championship simultaneously. It was only a matter of time before a film was made documenting her meteoric rise to stardom.
We open following siblings Saraya and Zak as they try to fulfil their childhood dreams of progressing from working small-time wrestling shows for their parents’ promotion to scaling the heights of the WWE. When they attend a try-out and only one of the siblings is offered a chance to achieve their dream, they are forced to take different paths. The focus is squarely on Saraya after she is signed by NXT, moves away from her family to begin training leaving brother Zak behind to deal with the rejection. The film follows Saraya’s struggle to fit in, overcome her nerves to eventually get called up to the main WWE roster with a little help from her family and a couple of conspicuous cameos from The Rock.
The film flits between Norwich and Florida, with the real heart of film contained in the grittier Norwich-based scenes. Stephen Merchant’s writing showcases his wickedly British sense of humour, even if the storyline feels slightly Americanised. A good example of this is the scene where Saraya and Zak’s parents meet the parents of Zak’s pregnant girlfriend for the first time (played by Merchant and Julia Davis), during which the family get the call inviting both Saraya and Zak to try-out for the WWE. The juxtaposition of the straight-laced Merchant and Davis who have never heard of WWE with the raucous Knight family makes it one of the more enjoyable scenes for British film fans.
A heart-warming tale about the power of the love of a family and the ability to achieve your dreams through working hard
Pugh does a brilliant job portraying Paige and her journey through self-doubt to self-acceptance. However, the pairing of Nick Frost and Lena Heady as loved-up wrestling couple Patrick and Julia (in-ring names Ricky and ‘Sweet’ Saraya Knight) is a stroke of genius. Frost and Heady’s portrayal of the couple does not disappoint as they effortlessly strike the balance between lovable ex-cons, wrestling entrepreneurs and supportive parents who at times live vicariously through their children, easily taking the biggest laughs of the film. The most moving performance has to be that of Lowden as Zac Bevis who has to come to terms with not getting signed with WWE and watching his little sister rise to fame. He walks a tumultuous path throughout the film and ultimately must choose between crime and his family and the sport he loves.
As a wrestling fan watching the film, I could see both pros and cons. Interspersed throughout were clips of some past WWE iconic matches featuring the Undertaker, The Rock and Steve Austin. Seeing these clips featured on the big screen reminded me why I loved watching the WWE. And of course, there are some WWE stars making cameos in the film, notably Big Show, Sheamus and The Miz who all add to the comedic air, particularly during a scene involving Big Show and Sheamus talking about emotional eating which takes place over a table piled high with burgers and hot dogs.
Conversely, I found the casting of current WWE star Zelina Vega as former Diva’s champion AJ Lee jarring, it left me wishing that, like those training with Paige in NXT, the former champion had also been fictionalised. I can see why the film makers would want to keep this integral part as true to real life as possible and Vega does a great job of portraying Lee. Of course, in order to make the film there had to be some liberties taken with Paige’s story but I found it frustrating that her time in NXT was cut down so greatly, with no mention of her becoming the first ever NXT women’s champion.
Overall, the film is a heart-warming tale about the power of the love of a family and the ability to achieve your dreams through working hard and “being the first you”. Some sound advice dished out to Paige and Zac by The Rock.
Did you know? A Channel 4 documentary called The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family was made previously about the Knights, airing in 2012.
Fighting with My Family is in cinemas now
You can listen to our interview with Fighting with My Family star Nick Frost on the LeftLion Film Podcast here