Do you have to care about professional wrestling to enjoy Fighting with My Family? No. Though set in the world of the WWE, and based on the life story of professional wrestler Saraya-Jade Bevis, known in the ring as “Paige”, Fighting with My Family is a classic sports underdog story. It’s about an outsider who finds a home in sport, and then must work her ass off to ascend to the highest levels of her discipline. That the sport is “soap opera in spandex” and the highest levels of her discipline is WWE Raw is immaterial. Fighting with My Family is a feel-good movie, designed to tug on the ole heart strings, and it is pretty damn good at doing just that.
Florence Pugh stars as Saraya Bevis, who wrestles with her family in a league her dad, “Rowdy Ricky” (Nick Frost), manages. She and her brother, Zak “Zodiac” (Jack Lowden), are popular draws in the north of England—not exactly a hotbed of professional wrestling—though the family barely makes enough to scrape by. The Bevis clan are misfits in every possible way. It is made clear in total corndog fashion that Saraya doesn’t fit in with the typical blonde, pretty, girlie-girls around her, an alienation that has a satisfying resolve later in the movie. Soon enough, Saraya and Zak are invited to audition for WWE, for a chance to go to NXT, the training ground for professional wrestlers. Saraya makes it, but Zak doesn’t.
This is where Family digs in a little and finds a story bigger than wrestling. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, Family has a warm gooey center that embraces both Saraya’s achieve-your-impossible-dream narrative, and Zak’s what-to-do-when-your-dream-dies story. The movie cuts between Saraya struggling to keep up with the training in NXT—Vince Vaughn turns in a solid performance as the coach responsible for training her—while Zak takes increasingly dangerous gigs back in England to make money to support his newborn child. She’s in the middle part of Rocky, he’s in the first act of The Wrestler.
Saraya’s story is a classic rags-to-riches sports fairytale, but Zak’s story is compelling for being more, well, realistic, for most people. Zak wants to be a professional wrestler more than anything, he works so hard to get a chance to audition for WWE, but his passion and hard work ultimately don’t pay off. And that is an important story, too, because no matter how hard you work and how much you want it, there is no guarantee you will achieve your dream—nothing is owed to you. The moment when Zak picks himself up after his heartbreak is as rewarding as Saraya’s triumph in the WWE.
Fighting with My Family isn’t really doing anything new, but thanks to Merchant’s light touch and sincere storytelling, it is an effectively uplifting sports underdog story. And Florence Pugh is just so goddamn watchable that it is very easy to get into it whether you like wrestling or not. Ultimately, it’s the story of a family that supports one another as one dream is achieved and another must be relinquished. It gets extra points for not sugar-coating that for most people, disappointment is at the end of the road, and for conveying that in a way that isn’t a total bummer. Fighting with My Family is a movie that is realistic about the odds of achieving a dream, but that still sends you out of the theater with a smile on your face.