Fighting With My Family: wrestling as more than just a “soap opera in spandex”

Source: IMDb / Robert Viglasky

Director Stephen Merchant’s latest film describes wrestling as a “soap opera in spandex”. But what happens when your entire family have dreamt of becoming WWE wrestlers and only you get picked? Fighting With My Family is a sports-comedy about Saraya “Paige” Knight’s (Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth, Outlaw King) journey from small family wrestling gigs in Norwich to WWE fame and what happens to her family when she leaves them behind. Also starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Vince Vaughan, Nick Frost and Lena Heady, this is not a film you should miss out on.

In contrast to the glamour and hype of the WWE big-leagues, there is a raw and almost homemade quality to the hometown scenes in Norwich that feels familiar. The film thrived on Paige being the odd-looking teen with a whole family obsessed with putting on wrestling shows. When she arrives at NXT to try to make it on the main roster, the other female hopefuls (made up of models and cheerleaders) are in awe of her accent. In a moment of ironic comedy, one asks her to read from a newspaper, gushing over her voice as she reads about a lethal fire that resulted in multiple deaths.

Much of the comedy centres around the Norwich roots in the film; from the Knight women’s catchphrase – “well dick me dead and bury me pregnant” – which baffles The Rock, to Ricky Knight’s (Nick Frost) attempts to gain wrestling gigs resulting in a bowling ball being lobbed at his friend. No beat is missed as the timing of each joke keeps the film rolling along.

The dramatic tension in the film lies between Paige and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden, The Tunnel, Mary Queen of Scots) – it is as much his story as it is her own. While she’s in America training to become the next WWE Diva Champion, he’s training the local kids at the family wrestling club. The most heartfelt moment of the film is just before Paige makes her debut. On the verge of a panic attack in the changing room, with talent scout and NXT trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughan) banging on the door saying, “it’s live television, there’s no waiting”, Paige gets a video call from her brother after the two haven’t spoken for a long time.

When Paige lifts the real Diva champion belt up high, her family going wild, the camera focuses in on Zak watching. Finally, he is happy for her. The camera then pans to a corner of the Knight family home, where resting on the shelf stands the framed photo of Zak and Paige as kids holding up their handmade WWE belts. This was never a film about becoming a WWE wrestler. This was a film about a family supporting one another’s ambitions.

This is not only a film for wrestling fans but for anyone who wants to truly laugh in cinema. I don’t just mean a “yes-I-totally-got-that-Marvel-inside-joke-ha-ha-go-me” laugh, but a real from the bottom of your stomach laugh. It is not the sniggering kind of laughter, but the sound of a well-entertained audience. Fighting With My Family is an underdog story with enough humour, wit and drama threaded through it that delivers to a high.

Rating: 4/5

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