Monday, April 6, 2020


by Rob DiCristino
“Don’t worry about being the next me. Be the first you.”

1. It shows as much as it tells.

Fighting with My Family’s brilliance is in its deceptive simplicity. Based on real-life WWE star Paige (Saraya-Jade Bevis) and written by The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant (who also directs), it finds clean and straightforward ways to invest the audience in a niche topic — a family of professional wrestlers. For example: After opening with a montage of great moments from the WWE, we cut to a young Zak (Thomas Whilley) watching and cheering along. The station switches abruptly over to Charmed, and there’s young Saraya (Tori Ellen Ross) holding the remote. The pair break out into a fight, which draws the wrath of dad (Nick Frost as Ricky). We expect him to stop the scuffle, but he doesn’t. Instead, he corrects Zak’s choke-hold method and lets the fight continue. More noise means more disruption, so here comes mom (Lena Headey as Julia). “He’s choking me!” says Saraya. “What are you going to do about it?” asks mom. Less than two minutes into the film, we’ve introduced our world, established our characters’ interpersonal dynamics, and earned our audience’s attention by subverting expectations.

2. Superstars, NXT, Divas, Smackdown, Raw...
At the risk of alienating 90% of movie lovers, I must admit that I don’t care about professional wrestling. I probably never will. However, as with Pitch Perfect before it (Suck it, Bromley), Fighting with My Family sells me on the WWE by showing me how important it is to its characters. Sure, WWE Studios is a co-producer and Trademarked Brand Terminology is awkwardly inserted into everyday conversation, but that makes sense in this universe. Nerds are particular about our vocabulary. We’d want to get it right. We’d never invest precious energy in the wrong words. The movie also deftly dismantles the number one criticism levied against pro wrestling: It’s fake. In one early scene, league manager Ricky tests wrestler Union Jack’s (Elroy Powell) tolerance for pain: A trash can lid to the face? Sure. A bowling ball to the bollocks? I’d rather not, but okay. By the time we see a grown Zak (Jack Lowden) removing tacks from his skin after a bout, we understand that this is staged, but it’s not fake. “It's a soap opera in spandex,” says NXT coach Hutch (Vince Vaughn). These are real athletes putting on a real show.

3. Vince Vaughn
Speaking of which, one of 2019’s unsung great performances belongs to Vince Vaughn, whose monologue about the perils of life as a professional wrestler not only underscores my #2 point above, but also humanizes his hard-ass coach character to Paige (Florence Pugh). Sharing his own story to warn Paige against pushing her brother into the life, he laments that “he’d try so hard to make an impression that he’d probably let a real star throw him off a thirty-foot cage onto a concrete floor, have his shoulder bone just kind of splice right through his rotator cuff, tear it clean in half...He’d be bitter, mean, and all by himself, just wishing to God he could get his kid to return his phone call.” There’s always been something incredibly sad in Vince Vaughn’s eyes, even in his comedy roles. This movie knows that, and it also knows that a mentor’s world-weary tough love gets results. Paige needs to see that her family legacy does not entitle her to a championship; each candidate wants this just as badly as she does, and it’s his job to make sure she’s ready. It also leads to my favorite line in the movie (“Don’t you touch his dirty horn!”).

4. The George McFly Effect
Here’s the other secret genius of Fighting with My Family: It’s not really about Paige. It’s about her brother Zak accepting a smaller form of notoriety than the one he originally hoped for. To him, training young wrestlers and performing at his family’s WAW events always felt like a stepping stone to something more. Crafting his Zak Zodiac character and perfecting his finisher (The Zak Attack), he never expected that Paige would be the one who stood out to the judges or that he’d be the one sent packing. Sure, he loves his sister and teaches her well, but he never thought he’d have to tell his pregnant girlfriend (Hannah Rae as Courtney) that all his promises were for nothing. Like Hutch, he never thought about wrestling as anything more than being a Superstar, and he thinks Paige’s success cost him his future. It’s not until older brother and former aspiring wrestler Roy (James Burrows) is released from prison that he learns the truth: It was always Paige who had the Superstar spark, but it was always Zak’s job to help her find it. He then reframes his relationship with wrestling, accepting his role as a family man and going on to teach hundreds more students his art.

5. It keeps The Rock under control.
Look, we all know this whole Rock situation is getting out of hand. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and his ability to grind a football career into a wrestling career into an acting career proves he’s the real deal. He’s a great celebrity personality who paid his dues in the trenches of Tooth Fairy and Race to Witch Mountain to become one of the highest-grossing actors in Hollywood, but even a reluctant Hobbs & Shaw defender like me can admit that this whole beige-clad, brand-safe blockbuster hunt is taking a bit of the shine off the apple. Since earning enough clout to take on the role of producer, he’s been inserting himself in places he just doesn’t belong (see the third act of the aforementioned Hobbs & Shaw) and jamming his alleged awesomeness down our throats at every opportunity. His prominence in the production and promotion of Fighting with My Family could have been disastrous, but the movie wisely relegates him to two scenes that require his gigantic celebrity presence to properly convey the stakes to the characters and the audience. It lets him do his thing and then, you know, puts the lid back on the bottle. That’s how you do it!


  1. This documentary makes a great companion piece with the film as its about the Knight family and filming coincides with Paige/Saraya and Zaks WWE try outs. The try outs are early on in the doc so its mostly about the family dealing with Paiges going to America and Zak still trying to get in the WWE.

    1. Just rewatched the doc. 2 things theres more post WWE Paige and less Zac than I remembered, 2nd Im guessing the film is based on the doc due to the shared title but I'm too lazy too google it.

  2. i discovered Florence Pugh in The Little Drummer Girl mini-series, but i fell in love with her in this.

    then i saw Midsommar, where she literally became a Goddess ;)