MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Professional wrestling is often looked down upon as “fake,” and while the matches are certainly scripted, the skill, design, and storytelling are no different than many other performing arts. In many ways, Fighting with My Family could also be interpreted as cliché—“a true story” about unknown woman’s improbable rise to fame—but it has been rarely done with such joy, heart, and craftsmanship. With its frequent cursing, references to past drug use, and constant (yet thematic) physical violence, it is certainly not “family friendly”. And yet is one of the best “family” films of recent memory.
Paige (Florence Pugh) is from a household in which wrestling is everything. Her parents were both former wrestlers who founded WAW (World Association of Wrestlers), a British knockoff of the WWE, and her older brother Zak (Jack Lowden) hosts wrestling classes for the street hoodlums of Norwich to keep them away from gangs and drugs. After years of training and sending audition tapes to the WWE, Paige and Zak finally get a chance to perform for a coach, but only Paige is chosen to move on to a professional training camp in Florida. Initially, it seems as though Zak takes this rejection rather well and encourages Paige to take the opportunity. But things get more and more complicated for everyone, and Paige soon discover the hardest blows come from outside the ring.
One of the best analogies for the family is a circus: a variety of odd yet talented performers who are completely different, but who work together for a common cause. When Zak invites his girlfriend’s “normal” parents over for dinner, his father delights them with the story of how “some people find religion, but my wife and I found wrestling.” Both of them were once drug-addicted convicts; now they beat each other up for audience amusement. It is probably not the impression Zak hoped to make on his future in-laws. Wrestling might be an odd choice for family cohesion, but it is only a symbol of the genuine love all of these members have for one another. So, when Paige experiences problems at the training camp and wonders whether or not to quit, her parents are upset but let her they will stand by her no matter what she decides.
While Paige is the one her parents are ultimately rooting for, Zack quietly emerges as the real “hero” of the film. Angry about being left out, he confronts the coach (played brilliantly by Vince Vaughan) who dismissed him. Zack has the talent but not “the spark.” He might have a little success, but it would ultimately lead to decades of chasing a dream that would never materialize, likely ruining his life in the process. This same situation had happened to his older step-brother, who was just released from prison for robbery. Zak wisely allows his pride to subside and instead devotes his time to his girlfriend, their newborn son, and the rag tag group of street kids—including a blind teen—who show up at his gym for a chance to release their anger and have fun. While billed as a biopic of Paige’s rise to fame, it was wonderful to see Fighting with My Family highlight the unsung champions who stay behind in their communities and make life better for those on the ground level.
Paige also has demons of her own to face. Most of her WWE counterparts are slim California models who are there as eye candy, but have little wrestling experience. At first, she resents these women as inauthentic but soon understands many of them come from similar difficult backgrounds. If they embrace the “fun blonde” motif, then she can embrace “weird goth” motif and thus create a compelling storyline for the audience. It’s so rare that a film encourages its viewers to embrace difficult but necessary roles rather than try to break or destroy them.
This theme reaches its zenith in the final scene when Paige defeats AJ Lee to become the youngest Diva Champion in WWE history. In her victory speech, Paige dedicates her win to “the oddballs and the outsiders.” Behind the fishnet stockings, colored hair, and lip piercings, the implication of Fighting with My Family is that the nuclear family itself is the outsider, which is why a film that has a very traditional message in so many ways feels rather revolutionary. Paige becomes her best self when she embraces her family and her unique role within that family and society. As the great English writer G.K. Chesterton—whose girth may have helped him be a WWE star in another Universe—once quipped, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!