Stephen Merchant’s Fighting with My Family tells a charming, inspiring, and triumphant tale of Paige (Florence Pugh) and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden). Through their journeys, it expresses the message that achieving a promising dream is far from “fixed”, like the nature of professional wrestling.
Based on a true story previously adapted for the Channel 4 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family (2012), this film follows Paige, her brother Zak and their loving family of professional wrestlers from Norwich, England who live a happy yet difficult life running an independent wrestling promotion. One day the family receives a phone call from WWE, the biggest wrestling company in the world, giving once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to Paige and Zak to have a try-out for them. While they both giving their all in the try-out, only Paige has been given a spot in NXT, the company’s competitive training program. Without her brother by her side, Paige has to leave her family to face the tough and harsh world of the WWE alone, hoping to achieve the dream to make it at the top of the wrestling world for her family.
With Stephen Merchant, the co-creator of the Office (UK) on board to write and direct this comedy-drama, Fighting with My Family marvellously balances and separates the charming and witty humour with the dramatic serious moments in the film. There are a couple of scenes from the get-go that I really liked in which we see the daily life of the wrestling family. We see Paige and Zak teaching other teenagers, including a blind boy, to wrestle. Meanwhile, we also see the parents Patrick (Nick Frost) and Julia (Lena Headey) planning a show wherein a wrestler has to take a bowling ball to the crotch. Not only are those scenes ridiculously funny, they also help us emotionally relate to the characters as a bonkers yet very humane family. When the dramatic moments appear, Merchant isn’t afraid to hold back the funny and humorous tone to approach them in a serious manner. The separate tones enforce the idea that their moments of hardships and struggles are no laughing matters. Furthermore, it also allows the audience to sympathise with the characters’ emotions and grow alongside them throughout the film.
The thing that really stands out in this film for me is the expression of loneliness and isolation in the hardships of the characters where in the story, Paige is alone, struggling to fulfil her and the family’s dream in a completely different and tough environment. The film achieves such emotional expressions not only by the brilliant writing and the direction of Merchant, but also the performances from Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden who both merge with their characters’ emotions extremely well.
The film inhabits the world of professional wrestling, and lays out the fact that it is fixed, rather than it is fake. However, the film struggles to maintain this fact throughout the film for the sake of keeping the business side of professional wrestling a secret to general audiences. Understandably, films often take creative liberties when adapting real-life stories, however, as I have followed the WWE program for a long time, I cannot help but point out that the film simplifies the development brand NXT from an exciting wrestling programme to just a training ground. As a result, the film leaves out some of Paige’s major career highlights. Her time as the inaugural NXT woman’s champion and involvement in the brand’s first network special are integral factors which bring back the excitement of the wrestling in WWE at the time.
To conclude my thoughts, Fighting with My Family is well crafted with humour and emotional notes. This character-driven underdog story thankfully does not require you to know about professional wrestling beforehand to enjoy, making it much more accessible to audiences.