Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Saraya “Paige” Knight (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her loved ones behind and face this new cutthroat world alone. Paige’s journey pushes her to dig deep and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star.
Sports movies like this can be a bit of a mixed bag for me. There are some that I think are boring and uninspiring and they can occasionally feel extremely tired and like we have seen them done a thousand times before. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely terrific ones in the bunch as well, such as 2011’s baseball drama Moneyball and even the 1996 golf comedy Happy Gilmore.
Especially with films that are true stories, or even based on true stories, they are sometimes not as captivating as other films, mainly because you can do a simple Google search and figure out the true story. Sometimes you don’t even have to do that, as some films that are based on true stories are stories that everybody has heard.
Stephen Merchant’s latest feature, Fighting with My Family looked like it was one of the really great sports movies. Even though the trailer actually did look relatively impressive and funny, the main reason why I was looking forward to watching this film was because of Florence Pugh, who portrays the lead character Paige. I have said it plenty of times and yet I will say it again. Pugh is my all-time favorite actress. After watching her haunting performance in Ari Aster’s masterful Midsommar and her wholesome and charming performance in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, I was swept away by Pugh’s acting talent.
Gratefully, I can report that Fighting with My Family is an extremely uplifting, charming and often emotional rollercoaster that really makes you care about its characters. Something that pleasantly surprised me about this movie as well, is that it not only makes you care about Paige, who we will talk more about in a minute, but it also makes you care about some of the other characters too.
Besides Paige, the character that I cared the most about was Jack Lowden’s Zak “Zodiac”. From the very beginning of the film, we see that wrestling is quite literally his life. He loves wrestling more than anything else and it is his biggest goal to one day be accepted into the WWE with his sister. His character goes on an incredible journey throughout the film that took me by surprise and I was shocked by how much I genuinely cared about him after a while. There was one scene in particular that was deeply emotional between him and Paige that riveted me.
But let’s talk about our main protagonist Paige. She is by far the heart and soul of Fighting with My Family and her character was one that I deeply cared about throughout every second of screen time. This is because of the terrific screenplay from Merchant as well as Pugh, who yet again delivers a mesmerizing performance. She is gut-bustingly hilarious when she needs to be, and she also sells every emotional beat when she needs to. I am constantly floored by Pugh’s performances, and if she continues, I think she will become more beloved by many people, which is what I hope happens.
When it comes to issues, Fighting with My Family does unfortunately fall into some of the sport movie tropes that we are so used to seeing at this point. Gratefully, it does not always fall into them as there are certainly many diverting scenes, but it isn’t always original and different. Also, it would have been nice if the film fleshed out some of the other members of the family more. Nick Frost’s Patrick gets sidelined for the most part, although he does get some funny lines every once in a while.
But, if you are looking for an extremely hilarious, heartfelt, touching, and incredibly inspiring film, then this film will surely win you over, as it did for me.
Fighting with My Family excels with its hilarious script, touching character moments, and a terrific performance from Florence Pugh.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content
Cast: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: Stephen Merchant
Distributed by: Mirror Releasing (United States), Lionsgate UK (United Kingdom), Universal Pictures (International and home video)
Running Time: 108 minutes