The Knight family are a family that doesn’t just enjoy wrestling, they live it. Putting on local shows, teaching classes, wrestling forms their everyday life and it has kept them out of trouble with the law. Ricky (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey) are keen to push for their son, Zak (Jack Lowden) and daughter, Saraya (Florence Pugh), to the mainstream wrestling world of WWE. The siblings soon get a chance to shine when they are invited to try out for WWE in London. However, when the WWE only decide to only take Saraya to their developmental program, The Knight family find themselves having to deal with the fallout of the decision.
This isn’t the first time mainstream media has entered the wrestling world of The Knight family. They were the focus of a Channel 4 documentary that happened to get the attention of one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson while he was filming Fast & Furious 6 in London.
Knowing little about Paige’s background at the time, the WWE champion turned Hollywood box office juggernaut identified greatly with Paige’s background in the documentary; he himself having come from a similar family of wrestlers himself. He also saw the movie making potential. Fast forward 5 years and Johnson has brought Paige’s life story to life with the help of British filmmaker Stephen Merchant.
The sport of professional wrestling, or sports entertainment, has had fleeting moments of featuring at the core of a mainstream film. The last time wrestling truly was in the cinematic limelight was with The Wrestler; an extraordinary but devastating spotlight of the wrestling life led by Mickey Rourke’s Oscar nominated performance. Before that, there was Ready to Rumble….and we rather not remember that.
Sports films themselves also need to be fine tuned when it comes to its viewing audience. Make it too sporty, only the sports fans will enjoy it. Take too much of the sport away, you lose the potentially biggest chunk of your audience – the fans. So Fighting with My Family has the challenge of not just making Paige’s journey as a wrestler appealing to a mainstream audience but also please the audiences well versed in WWE.
Fighting with My Family certainly tries to work on both these fronts with varying results.
As a film to the non-wrestling fans, Fighting with My Family works very well as a likeable British comedy drama about a dysfunctional family and their love of the sport. Merchant’s script excels when it focuses on The Knight way of wrestling life and the effect that Saraya’s WWE signing brings to their lives.
The film is at its strongest when the serious side of the story come into play, successfully focusing on the emotional destruction of Zak’s rejection from WWE. It’s painful to watch as Zak clearly lives and breathes wrestling and the fact that he can’t achieve his ultimate dream is heartbreaking. As for Saraya, she finds herself a fish out of water in the mainstream world of WWE and constantly asks herself if the sports entertainment giant is where she really wants to be. Both Pugh and Lowden do commendable jobs in bringing engaging performances to these two intertwining story lines.
There’s a good littering of comedic moments, mostly delivered by the reliable Nick Frost as the patriarch of the Knight family, eager to make the best living from his wrestling passion than return to a life of crime. Other laughs are easily found in both Dwayne Johnson’s appearance as himself and Stephen Merchant’s cameo as Zak’s potential father-in-law.
Now, if I wasn’t a WWE fan, I’d be quite comfortable with Fighting with My Family as an individual unique British comedy drama. However, it’s tough for me to review this as a movie goer, because I am a WWE fan. So in the run up, I was curious about what the film would do regarding the WWE chapter in Paige’s journey. This is where my reservations frog splash in from the top turnbuckle.
If you’re an avid follower of WWE and knowledgeable of Paige’s in-ring career with the company, the WWE infused half of this film will disappoint. The film does nothing wrong highlighting the personal struggles that Saraya, who renamed herself Paige when she joined WWE, had to content with while in Orlando. A good portion of this chapter of the film shows her attempts to fit in, trying to train with people with zero ring experience and importantly try not to throw in the towel. A towel (or horn in this film’s case) constantly presented by Vince Vaughn’s gruff trainer.
Other than the continuous physical and character training, there is little reference or recounting Paige’s full involvement in NXT. It does make you think that they’ve made this cinematic version of NXT in the shadow of its very first iteration. An iteration where NXT was still a developmental brand but also the weirdest popularity contest for upcoming wrestlers. Look it up on YouTube, it’s out there.
To a WWE fan, it feels bizarre that we’re not shown the glimpses of now acclaimed NXT we know and love that began in 2012 because Paige played a huge part in it. She was the first NXT Women’s Champion!
It is frustrating that the film simply reduces NXT to just one big training camp here. It gives a very inaccurate take of Paige getting signed to NXT and, after months of just training, suddenly goes up to the main roster. She did have a significant role in building the impressive NXT Women’s Division and women’s wrestling revolution but it feels rather clichéd.
As this would be something of significance to showcase, it’s baffling from a wrestling’s fan perspective that this important chapter is hardly acknowledged – until the end credits. For me as a wrestling fan, it’s disappointing. I can imagine other wrestling fans feeling similar.
However, despite my disappointment of that one area of the film, I can understand that this is likely down to the conscious decision from the filmmakers to not alienate the general audience. In making the material as accessible as possible to a wider audience, WWE fans should be prepared for a light recount of history here.
Ultimately, that’s where Fighting with My Family truly succeeds as a movie, a film about the importance of family and never giving up on your dreams. Watching the film with that core mindset, Merchant and Johnson have done a very admirable job. Whether or not you know much – or care – about wrestling, this is a charming tale that should put a smile on your face when the credits roll.
Fighting with My Family is on general release now in the US, it lays the smack down on UK cinemas from Wednesday 27th March.