FILM REVIEW – FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY. With Florence Pugh, Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Dwayne Johnson. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content. 108 minutes.
There was a famous ad campaign in the 1960s that declared “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye.” Well, you don’t have to be a fan of pro wrestling to love FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, the true story of Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh), who holds a number of distinctions including being the youngest Diva Champion of World Wrestling Entertainment.
When we first meet her, she travels with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) and her parents (Nick Frost, Lena Headey), staging wrestling bouts around England. It’s strictly small time, but then the WWE offers tryouts and Saraya and Zak both go for it, even running into Dwayne Johnson (who plays himself and is one of the film’s executive producers). The person in charge of selecting and training the wrestlers, Hutch (Vince Vaughn), makes it clear that most of them won’t make the cut. In fact, only Saraya does.
Whatever you think of pro wrestling, the film makes clear that the performers undergo strenuous training. When Saraya arrives in Florida she begins to doubt if she has what it takes to make it. She’s attractive, but she looks nothing like the other women who seem to have been selected because they’ll look good on pin-up posters. As a personality – and the WWE stars are expected to do more than wrestle – she lacks the confidence and energy to win over the crowd. All the while, Hutch exploits the weaknesses of the trainees, urging them to quit.
So what the movie is really about, beyond the rise of a wrestling superstar, is the inspirational story of someone who has a dream, faces missteps and failures, and yet perseveres. You don’t have to know who Seraya is to want to cheer her on. Beyond that, writer-director Stephen Merchant (who has a small role as Zak’s prospective father-in-law), infuses the story with humor. Saraya’s family, all wrestlers themselves, have their own eccentricities and yet we can recognize such universal traits as parental pride and sibling rivalry.
The heart of the movie is Pugh’s performance as Seraya. She conveys both the excitement and self-doubt she experiences along the way. She has to adapt, overcoming the attitudes and fears that were getting in her way. It’s a winning performance that may not get notice at the Oscars next year but marks her as someone to watch.
For those who already know who Seraya is, this will be a celebration of a woman who became one of the most popular WWE personalities. For those who don’t, “Fighting With My Family” is an entertaining and surprisingly touching story that may not turn you into a pro wrestling fan but will make you appreciate the effort and hard work that goes into succeeding in that world.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.