“Fighting with My Family” is written and directed by British actor/comedian Stephen Merchant, who co-starred with the film’s producer, Dwayne Johnson, in 2010’s “Tooth Fairy”. Johnson actually plays himself in a few memorable scenes of “Fighting”. And that’s because this is based on the true story (and 2012 documentary) of WWE wrestler Paige.
Born Saraya Bevis, she grew-up in Norwich, England. Her parents and brother Zak all wrestled together as a small family business. She became a part of the act at 13, and then fell in love with it. Both Paige and Zak had dreams of being in the WWE. The two auditioned, but only Paige was chosen to move on in the process. The movie chronicles the next steps in her climb, which were not easy for every member of the family.
“Fighting with My Family” is surprisingly compelling. This isn’t simply another formulaic underdog sports story. It’s unique, with a substantial, character-driven script. Even though Saraya’s saga revolves around something that’s pretend (sorry, pro wrestling fans!), her journey is very real and treated with genuine sincerity.
Merchant, in his first solo directorial feature, doesn’t hold back in depicting an unconventional sibling rivalry. He also devotes plenty of time to the foul-mouthed, older members of the Bevis clan (played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey). Sometimes the comedy strays a bit far, and the fast-talking British dialogue is occasionally difficult to decipher. But as the real-life clips in the end credits show, mom and dad are portrayed to a tee.
Actress Florence Pugh is best known for 2016’s “Lady Macbeth” and last year’s “Outlaw King”. Become familiar with her name – because her performance as Saraya not only puts her on the mat, but will put her on the map. I’m now looking forward to seeing her at the end of the year in Greta Gerwig’s all-star version of “Little Women”.
And the smart casting doesn’t end there. Vince Vaughn gives the top performance of his career as WWE trainer Hutch Morgan. The restraint in which he plays Morgan, whose job it is to “make superstars”, is championship belt worthy.
Don’t worry if you’re not a WWE superfan. “Fighting with My Family” is 2019’s first true must-see film. It’s offbeat, charming and surprisingly moving. And we can add Stephen Merchant’s name to the growing list of actors turned directors with an extremely bright future.