WWE finally did a wrestling movie. It doesn't understand wrestling, though.
The WWE Studios filmography is an interesting thing to wade through. It's riddled with cinematic classics like The Marine 3: Homefront, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, and the horror masterpiece See No Evil, which ends with a dog urinating in the empty eye socket of WWE Superstar Kane. That's not to say the company's big-screen track record is all bad. Movies like Oculus, Sleight, and The Call--none of which are built around a WWE wrestler cameo--are legitimately good movies.
So where does Fighting with My Family, the studio's first wrestling-centric biopic, land on that spectrum? As it turns out, it's actually WWE's best movie yet. That's not to say it's perfect, but WWE has taken a piece of its own history and crafted a truly engaging and inspiring film.
Fighting with My Family follows the story of Saraya Bevis, who wrestling fans know better as retired WWE Divas Champion Paige. The film starts in her childhood and follows her upbringing within a family that runs its own independent wrestling company as she chases her dream of one day making it to the big league.
Starring as Bevis is Florence Pugh, most recently seen in the Netflix movie Outlaw King. As the aspiring pro wrestler, Pugh manages to embody the cockiness that would eventually become Paige's in-ring persona, as well as the awkwardness and lack of confidence that comes with anyone coming of age. She swings wildly between knowing she's the best person suited to become WWE's next breakout star and being so unsure of herself that she's on the verge of giving up her dream because she doesn't think she's good enough, and it is incredibly believable the entire time.
Also worth pointing out is Vince Vaughn as WWE trainer Hutch Morgan. There are times when the actor delivers the exact kind of deadpan humor he's known for while walking his students through the beginning steps of wrestling training. However, when he gets to the serious moments as Paige wonders if her choice to move to the US to chase her dream is a mistake, Vaughn shines. He's unrelenting as he hits the wannabe WWE superstar with the harsh truth that she might not be cut out for the reality of the fantasy she's built in her own mind. It's rare that we get to see Vaughn go to such an emotional place, and his sobering performance in Fighting with My Family is some of the best work of his career.
The rest of the cast are no slouches either. As Paige's parents, Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) ride the line between old school carny wrestling hustlers and a proud mom and dad well. Meanwhile, Jack Lowden (Mary Queen of Scots) is impressive as a brother who shares his sister's dream, only to be told he's never going to be good enough. There's also a motley crew of local kids Paige helps to train whose characters help the better define the world she's leaving behind.
The only sore thumb sticking out, oddly enough, is Dwayne Johnson. The Rock plays himself and is something of a mentor that pops up a few times throughout the movie, and each appearance seems rather forced. Johnson's Seven Bucks Productions is one of the producers on this film, and he's been a very public supporter of telling this story, but outside of a scene in which he interacts with Frost's character over the phone, his moments disrupt the flow of the movie.
As for the film itself, Fighting with My Family is largely great. It's an uplifting story of a young woman who refuses to give up, even when everyone tells her she should. As those who know wrestling history know, however, it paid off in the end. Watching this young woman go from awkward teenage Saraya to bonafide WWE Superstar Paige is inspiring and a fitting prequel to what has become WWE's women's revolution, which she was a huge part of.
That all said, there are some problems with the movie and what they are is surprising. The film seems to have a huge misunderstanding of how professional wrestling and WWE work. While there were obviously going to be changes made, given that this is a film aimed at a mainstream audience, this being a WWE Studios movie should mean more than the company's various logos popping up throughout the story.
Its portrayal of WWE's developmental brand NXT, and Paige's history with it, is quite different from reality. In NXT, Paige was an NXT Women's Champion and developed the "anti-diva" persona that got her over with crowds. That entire portion of her career isn't mentioned at all.
As for misunderstanding wrestling, the film tries to work in "insider" lingo like delivering "receipts"--hitting your opponent back hard when they mistakenly hit you--but can't decide if the matches results themselves are predetermined or actual competitive contests.
Honestly, though, these are gripes that only hardcore wrestling fans will likely have about the film. Mainstream audiences likely won't have the same kind of hangups about the inner-workings of sports entertainment. And, while some of these moments might be problematic to fans, they don't take away from what this movie is truly about. It's about a woman with a dream that risked literally everything to follow it and managed to help change an entire industry in the process. As far as wrestling goes, Paige is something of a superhero in that regard. This is her origin story.
Fighting with My Family will release in select theaters on February 14.
|What's Good||What's Bad|
|The cast, especially Vince Vaughn and Florence Pugh, are top notch.||Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson sticks out like a sore thumb.|
|It's a simple story that shines a light on the positive aspects of pro wrestling.||This WWE Studios movie doesn't understand how WWE or wrestling works|
|The characters populating her small English hometown are very entertaining.|
|Paige's journey from working the indies with her family to becoming a WWE Superstar is engaging.|