Fighting with My Family doesn't just detail one wrestler's journey towards WWE; it instead spotlights an entire family's journey alongside her, and we've never seen a wrestling movie quite like this one.
If you aren't familiar with the origins or source material of Fighting with My Family, the good news is you don't really have to be, as director Stephen Merchant does a lovely job of drawing from the original documentary and contextualizing the relationships between these family members throughout the film. Ricky, Julia, Saraya, and Zak all spring to life on screen, with the actors echoing their real-life counterparts, but also adding their own nuances and personal touches.
It makes for a compelling combination of real life and kayfabe, which is fitting for a movie based around the WWE. In fact, Merchant has some fun with that blurred line, a method that should appeal to longtime wrestling fans as you see the reality of what it takes to put a decent match together in front of a crowd, but the illusion that there isn't a script is still somewhat upheld. Promo work, wrestling technique, and character honing are all represented, and that attention to the craft of professional wrestling helps balance things out when the story moves in more emotional directions, essentially making the movie feel like one long, compelling match.
It helps that actress Florence Pugh embodies so much of why fans love Paige in the first place. We're sure it wasn't, but Pugh's time on screen as Paige appears in many ways effortless, never appearing as if she's trying to become a real figure but just simply being that figure. From the very first bump in the ring and beyond, you instantly buy into what you're seeing as someone who can one day become the Divas Champion and go on to impact a revolution, and that performance is what grounds everyone else, making those dysfunctional familial moments shine even brighter.
That shouldn't overshadow what the rest of the cast brings to this film however, as their contributions cannot be overstated. Actors Nick Frost and Lena Headey give fantastic performances as Ricky Knight and Julia Knight respectively, bringing humor and warmth that isn't without complications but is always presented as believable and genuine. Jack Lowden's take on Zak Knight is also a pleasant surprise, as themes that weren't explored in the original documentary much at all regarding Saraya's brother give even more emotional weight to his plight and Paige's journey.
The Rock also shines in the few moments he pops up, and while his time in the trailer is hilarious, the full extended scene is better, adding some heart and understanding of this surreal world in addition to the laughs. The biggest surprise though has to be Vince Vaughn, who just about steals the show in every scene he's in. His questioning and challenging of these trainees is humorous, yes, but throughout, his interactions almost always provide better context for the character's he's talking to.
The acting does flounder a bit when one of the above isn't at the helm though, mostly in regards to some of Paige's fellow wrestlers. The onscreen characters of Jeri-Lynn, Maddison, and Kirsten never click in the same way that Pugh's take on Paige does, and though they serve their purpose in the overall story just fine, you never quite fully buy in. The same goes for current WWE superstar Zelina Vega as the beloved AJ Lee, who delivers a fantastic Black Widow finisher, but also doesn't ever get you to believe she's the former Diva's Champion through and through.
In regards to Paige herself, believability is never an issue, but there are some choices in regards to her final promo that don't work as well as others. It's a small nitpick though, as most everything else about her portrayal is spot on. There are some areas that the movie takes liberties with or glosses over, like many of her NXT matches, but for the most part, those changes work, or if they don't they are easily pushed aside.
Fighting with My Family beautifully captures the spirit of a family brought together by wrestling, and you'll find something to smile about whether you're a wrestling fan or not. Granted, if you are a fan, you will enjoy it even more, but regardless of which camp you find yourself in, Fighting with My Family couldn't be more deserving of your time. This was always Paige's house, and now you'll discover all the reasons why.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Fighting with My Family hits theaters on February 22nd.