Saturday, March 23, 2019

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Film Review

‘Fighting with My Family’

3/6/2019

Shamelessly formulaic, this WWE feature film produced simultaneously promotes the brand while encouraging all would-be wrestlers to chase their dreams.

“Fighting with My Family”
PG-13 | 106 minutes

If you’re looking for a sports film with a lot of heart and motivation, you’re going to come up short when you watch “Fighting with My Family.”

This story is one you’re familiar with: Underdog beats long odds to wind up exulting in a triumphant moment—a championship. Shamelessly formulaic, this feature film produced by the WWE simultaneously promotes the brand while encouraging all would-be wrestlers to chase their dreams.

Paige (Florence Pugh) is introduced to us as Saraya-Jade Bevis, the youngest of a close-knit family of four born and bred in the U.K. professional wrestling scene. Sure, her parents are an ex-con and a former drug abuser, but they are also very loving and supportive. Her half-brother is serving time most of the film for putting a random person in a coma after being told he wouldn’t be a professional wrestler. And her other brother is facing the same rejection upon Paige’s success.

So — she comes from a dysfunctional family? No, that’s not right. She comes from a non-traditional family.

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Her mother Julia (Lena Headey) and father Ricky (Nick Frost) are the owners and big stars of WAW, the World Association of Wrestling in Norwich. Saraya isn’t a born wrestler, unlike her older brother Zak (Jack Lowden) who’s had the dream of going professional since he was a toddler. Zak’s dream is to wrestle for the WWE one day, even though he’s a soon-to-be father with his girlfriend Courtney (Hannah Rae). But after one time in the ring at age 13, she quickly develops a thirst for the spotlight as well.

Soon enough, Zak and Saraya are invited to try out for WWE’s developmental brand, NXT, by head trainer Hutch (Vince Vaughn) while he’s touring England. But when Saraya gets the call to move to the U.S. and join NXT full-time and Zak doesn’t, their divided career paths put a strain on the family. Saraya, now rechristened as Paige, must contend with moving to a new country and a new life by herself, leaving her family and her support structure behind her.

Once she makes it to the Miami, that’s when things really take off. Well, no. That’s not right. Once she gets to Miami, Paige then struggles with loneliness and self-doubt. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls—blond, bouncing and buxom—and assumes since they come from modeling and music videos, with zero wrestling training, they’re just wanting to “shake their tits and ass” for exposure. Sure, the other women appear catty, because they are. But they also have a backstory. One is a mom. To a young daughter.

With that deep dive into the supporting cast, we once again find Paige, sad and alone. The movie positions Paige as the freakish outsider to the stuck-up sorority girls in her class. But in perhaps the best montage featured (and there are several — mostly on a beach, reminiscent of “Rocky”) is that of Paige trying to win over her fellow females. She does it through gift-giving, workout support and being around, I guess. It doesn’t matter, because now all the girls are fast friends and helping one another be the best version of themselves.

Great. Now we no longer have a lonely and depressed Paige. But we still don’t have a compelling character. The WWE is all about storytelling, and throughout the movie the audience is reminded time and again that the people decide who stays in the ring, and they will turn on stars in an instant.

And in every instance she’s in the ring and expected to speak, she fails. Or worse, she gives a shaky, non-confident “for the misfits and outcasts” speech that is supposed to hit you with a gut punch of emotions that this woman who worked so hard to achieve her brother’s dream. I mean her dream. To achieve her own dream. I think. Honestly, it’s unclear if wresting is her dream or the collective dream of her family that she must embody since the opportunity was presented to her.

While the movie should leave its audience thinking about Paige’s success and determination, it focuses so much time on Zak’s storyline that it becomes a distraction. Why wouldn’t they have picked her brother? He was perfect, had an attitude, could fight. He’s everything WWE wanted, while Paige simply wasn’t — at least in what we see on the screen. Paige had no stage presence. She either freezes or was totally lacking in personality and conviction. How could the WWE have been impressed by her first appearance? It’s a scripted show, she froze up — that seems like it should have been the end.

Also, there are two cameos by The Rock, and they’re fine as he’s as charismatic as ever. But the trailer and posters make it seem like he’s a much bigger part, and that’s simply not the case. Alternatively, I kept thinking Vince Vaughn was going to be phoning this one in based on the trailer. I’m happy to report I was wrong. Vaughn’s work as “Hutch” is rock solid, providing great banter and insight into how some this industry works.

If you go in with your brain turned to “low” and accept fun and excitement, “Fighting with My Family” gives you moments of feel-good fun that’s entertaining enough. ♦

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