‘Don’t worry about being the next me. Be the first you…’
As with literally every other aspect of life, I’m convinced that wrestling was better when I was younger. I grew up in the Attitude era that boasted The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mankind (probably no need to mention Val Venus…) and for a couple of years there, WWE (or WWF as it was then) was almost as important to me as football, the video game Worms and eating Twixs. It was a great time to be alive. As I got older however, I eventually fell out of love with wrestling as so many do so I was only vaguely aware of WWE starlet Paige before watching Fighting With My Family. What I am familiar with though is underdog stories…
The Knight family are obsessed with wrestling. Patriarch Pat (Nick Frost) and his loving wife Julia (Lena Headey) claim that wrestling saved their lives. All three of the Knight children end up trying out for World Wrestling Entertainment in some form or another but it is Saraya (Florence Pugh) or ‘Paige’ to use her wrestling name, who ends up having the biggest shot. Fighting With My Family showcases her rise from obscurity to WWE flag bearer in a way that evokes both Rocky and The Karate Kid.
First off, it must be said that Florence Pugh is probably the best actress in the world right now. She is comfortable playing absolutely everything and this versatility certainly isn’t tempered in this performance as a ‘weirdo from Norwich’. Pugh brings a huge amount of heart and vulnerability to a role that could so easily have ended up being derivative and unoriginal. She is helped by a starry supporting cast with Vince Vaughn leading the way as Paige’s reluctant mentor Hutch Morgan. Jack Lowden’s everyman performance as Paige’s brother Zak is also worth a mention. Another star in the making that one.
With Fighting With My Family, writer/director Stephen Merchant has once again fuelled suggestions that he was the real genius behind the Merchant/Gervais partnership, or at the very least, the beating heart at its centre.
Fighting With My Family is essential viewing for wrestling fans but it’s also just a great movie generally. One of the most purely enjoyable films of 2019.