‘Fighting with My Family’ is a knockout

The biopic of the 26-year-old WWE fighter packs a lot of heart

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‘Fighting with My Family’ is a knockout

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

By Lauren LaMagna, Assistant Arts Editor

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The underdog story is no new genre to modern cinema. This story has been told hundreds of times to the point that audiences barely find it entertaining anymore. It goes the same way every time: the underdog has a dream, pursues that dream with more obstacles than the average person and in some way, rises above those obstacles and not only makes it, but becomes the best. It’s a predictable story that doesn’t give a modern audience anything new to surprise them. But when it works, it really works.

“Fighting with My Family” is the latest underdog, rags-to-riches story that follows World Wrestling Entertainment fighter Paige, or Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh). The film is Knight’s origin story following her journey from a local wrestler in Norwich, England to the star of WWE, but it also is a kindhearted film about the Knight family. Writer-director Stephen Merchant tells a classic underdog story while combining a heartwarming tight-knit family dynamic and the result is a fun and warm experience.

The Knight family is unlike any family you’d ever meet. There’s Mum and Dad, Julia ‘Sweet Saraya’ Knight (Lena Headey) and Patrick ‘Rowdy Ricky’ Knight (Nick Frost) who are former professional wrestlers themselves and kids Zak ‘Zodiac’ (Jack Lowden) and Saraya ‘Paige.’ Instead of going to the movies or playing a board game to bond, the Knights wrestle. Zak and Saraya would wrestle for the remote while their parents would give pointers and notes during the fight, rather than punishing them. It’s a fun way to grow up and a funny event to watch as the parents coach one child on how to wrestle the other one. But, this is how the Knights functioned as a family because to them, wrestling was in their blood. Fast forward ten years, Zak and Saraya are young adults and are on the path to becoming professional wrestlers. They are the stars of their little town North of London and consider themselves a package deal. They audition together, fight together and give each other pointers in order to make their sibling look the best. But at the tryout, only Saraya gets into the training camp, leaving her and especially her brother defeated. But as Zak reminds her, she can’t quit because she isn’t wrestling for herself, she is wrestling for her family.

“Fighting with My Family” could have been the latest by-the-book sports underdog movie but Merchant was able to turn it into so much more. The film is not only about wrestling, but also about identity. During Saraya’s time at the training camp (where she goes by her ring name Paige), she is placed with former models, cheerleaders and dancers who are becoming wrestlers to be famous. They’re all tall, blonde, tan and gorgeous. Which to a goth 18-year-old girl from a small town North of London, is terrifying. She immediately feels like she doesn’t belong and would much rather be back home with her family and the people she grew up with. Instead of focusing on the wrestling training, Merchant focuses on the environment Paige is in and how it shapes her into the wrestler she is today. Even though there is the physical component of the wrestling in the film, those scenes aren’t the most important. What’s integral are the scenes when the other girls talk in the corner without Paige, or when Paige even tries to conform to looking like an ‘American wrestler’ in order to fit in and her parent’s reaction to the transformation.

The film is a combination of multiple genres but at its core it is a family dramedy. The film equally takes place in Norwich, England and Orlando, Florida and Merchant perfectly balances the two locations. He meshes both the British dry humor with the Knight family and the sarcastic American humor, mostly with the ever-amazing Vince Vaughn. This mesh also shows how Paige is a fish out of water in Orlando where the Americans don’t understand her humor and instead think she’s cold and aloof. While the audience is immersed in Paige’s underdog story, Merchant takes us back to Norwich to see how her family, particularly her brother, is reacting to the change of the family dynamic. Normally, this choice might not have been the best idea, since the audience would be more interested in Paige’s journey. But due to Merchant’s smart script and the real, heart-felt performances by the cast (mainly the family members), Merchant gets away with it. As an audience, we are interested to see not only Paige’s journey, but her entire family’s journey as well.

When asking for advice, Dwayne Johnson, also known as “The Rock,” tells Paige that in order to be a successful wrestler, she can’t be the next Dwayne Johnson, but she can be the first Paige. It might sound like a cliché, but it’s true. So much of wrestling and entertainment in general isn’t completely real but in order to be successful, you need to embrace your individuality and uniqueness with open arms. While the film is about wrestling, feminism and family, it also celebrates individuality and uniqueness. Paige learns from her family and experience in Orlando that in order to be successful, you first need to accept and be proud of who you are, which is why “Fighting with My Family” is the first surprise hit of 2019.

Lauren LaMagna can be reached at [email protected]