Wednesday, May 29, 2024

EUR Review: ‘Fighting With My Family’ is Modest, Which Makes It Magical

*After viewing the trailers and then the opening few minutes of “Fighting With My Family“, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re getting an MTV-esque film with quick cuts, tons of bone-jarring action and a polished film that will bring one of the larger-than-life legends of professional to life on the big screen in the mythic, glorious way she deserves.

You could be absolved of thinking that, but you’d still be wrong.

More importantly, you will be glad you are.

Because “Fighting With My Family”, which gives us the journey of professional wrestler Saraya “Paige” Bevis, from her humble upbringings growing up in a household of professional wrestlers to winning the WWE Divas Championship in 2014, is a very modest film, in both it’s aspirations, it’s cast  and it’s payoff.  It’s a choice that differentiates it from a by-the-numbers underdog flick. Florence Pugh is outstanding as Paige. She really gets across how hard it is to break into the very big world of big-time professional wrestling, which gives the film a freshness it would not have if it were another boxing or football movie.

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

Pugh also brings something new to the screen as not only a female lead, but one that, unlike Star Wars’ Rey  or even Alita, is vulnerable and has flaws. In fact, I can’t think of another protagonist in a film like this where the protagonist is so shy and uncertain about whether she really wants to achieve her dream.

This is a compelling element. So much so, that even though “Fighting With My Family” is based on a real-life story, you still find yourself wondering if she is going to actually make it.

Part of Paige’s reticence is due to guilt over her older brother Zak (Jack Lowden) having been rejected for WWE tryouts when she was accepted. This brings a heartbreaking conflict to the fore, since they had shared escapades in the ring and the same dream for years.

As we see from the beginning of the film, that mutual dream was planted and cultivated by Paige and Zak’s parents, Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis (a fantastic Nick Frost) and Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis (a rock solid Lena Headey), who have their kids star in matches for the family’s pro wrestling organization, World Association of Wrestling (WAW).

Her family’s fanatic, all-consuming devotion to wrestling is exemplified when, at one point in the film, the eventual Paige says, “You named me after your wrestling name!” .

The eventual Paige made her debut in 2005, at the age of 13, when her father, who was running a wrestling show, asked her to replace a wrestler who failed to turn up. Her earliest recorded match was in April 2006 when she, using the ring name Britani Knight, teamed with her mother for a loss in a triple threat tag team match in WAW.

While these two matches are shown in all their glory in the film, there are many other real-life moments in Paige’s life that happened and many other things she achieved on the way to the WWE that are excised. This turns out to be a wise decision as the focus remains on her ultimate dream and the expectations from her family, conflict with her brother and self-doubt that accompanied her on her journey.

This raw emotion and energy and pure acting takes the place of jump-out-of-your seat fight scenes. The film is more concerned with the character of Paige, rather than the choreography of her fights.

In the end, it falls on Pugh to carry the film. Yes, the conflict with her brother resonates, the actions of her parents will make you laugh and Vince Vaughn gives one of his better performances as the demanding Hutch Morgan, whose job it is to recruit talent for the WWE.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also makes good use of what is basically an extended cameo. James Burrows is also onscreen for a few minutes as Roy Knight, Zak and Paige’s older half-brother, The Big Show is onscreen for about 30 seconds as himself.  Tori Ellen Ross sets things up perfectly early on as “Young” Paige as does Zelina Vega late in the film as AJ Lee, the woman who has the title Paige so covets.

There are also some scenes in which 3 drop-dead gorgeous, model-worthy ladies named Jeri-Lynn (Kim Matula), Kirsten (Aqueela Zoll) and Maddisson (Ellie Gonsalves) that address the misconception of female wrestlers being solely there for T&A  and Paige’s own biases.

However, none of it would work in a film in which there are less than ten characters with any significant screen time at all if the lead were not capable of carrying it. Pugh does so and by giving a unique, modest performance that takes the chance of making her arguably the least confident protagonist we’ve seen in a movie of this type, gives us a climax that is all the more satisfying as a result.

Grade: A

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