Today, we’re reviewing the movie “Fighting with My Family”. It’s a little late, but it’s here while fresh in my mind after viewing it last week. If you’re planning on watching it at some point? Avoid this, as it does include spoilers. Fighting with My Family stars Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson and James Burrows.
The brute force behind the advertising budget for this movie was frustrating. Not that I didn’t want to see it, but you couldn’t watch WWE without it being plugged 6+ times a week. I put it out of mind and forgot about it til just recently, when one of my family members wanted to check it out. With some minor reluctance on my part, we found the time to watch it together. Having avoided reviews, I think it was the right call to go in with no expectations.
Wrestling with My Family
I followed Paige’s career since her NXT days, and as a British fan, I feel proud of what she’s achieved for herself and family. And while I’d heard about the family business years ago, it was not something I’d spent time researching. I was hoping to find facts carrying the story, while knowing it wouldn’t be wise to take everything literally. Undoubtedly, some of the facts would be exaggerated and/or distorted to increase entertainment value.
The movie is based on the 2012 documentary I probably should’ve checked out beforehand, “Wrestling with My Family”. There’s several differences between it and the movie, but I’ll go into that later. You can watch the full documentary below.
After watching it yesterday, it makes me question the movie even more. Before we get in to the debate of fact & fiction though, let’s start with the stuff I found enjoyable.
The Good Stuff
They got the family dynamic down really well. The chemistry was great, and it was sad when they felt weaker when Paige wasn’t there anymore. I also liked the nod to the state of British Wrestling. While it boomed in the 70’s, there was no stopping the might of then-WWF and the NWA, resulting in British Wrestling effectively dying outside small venues. The public never forgot the legends though, like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki, and others who paved the way for those we see today.
Another thing I enjoyed was showing the rough, often hilarious perceptions of people who don’t understand wrestling. The girls who talked to Paige while advertising a show on the street, tried making her feel childish and ashamed. Paige stood up for her family business, scaring them off with her butch ways. While a little cheesy, it did the job of highlighting the strange, unfounded level of pomposity, unique only to wrestling and people who don’t get it.
One of the funniest parts was when Zak’s girlfriend’s (Courtney) parents popped round for an evening with the Knights. Having no experience with it, Courtney’s Father naively asks “Isn’t it fake though?”, and I just had to laugh. You could almost see the veins popping out of their heads, as the family struggled to think of a response. Luckily, Courtney was on hand to break the silence by saying “it’s scripted, but the moves still hurt”. I thought this was cleverly done, and it further hits home the point of how alien wrestling is to some.
From the beginning, it established the tone by highlighting the bond between Saraya (Paige) and her brother Zak. Wrestling for WWE had always been Zak’s dream since he was a kid, while Paige didn’t show interest til she worked her first match at age 13. Their older brother Roy, who was imprisoned for breaking the law after being refused a WWE contract, added another layer of anticipation leading in to their first tryout. It worked better this way, as both Zak & Saraya’s goals was to achieve what Roy couldn’t.
Another sweet touch was Zak driving around in his van, singing along with the students he picked up for training. More so with the blind kid waiting on a swing in the park, waiting to hear the van pull up. It leads to a heart warming moment near the end, when Zak realizes he can still make a difference to other people’s lives, even if he isn’t famous. The fact that he taught a blind kid how to wrestle for real? Makes the moment in the movie all the more special.
On to the fictional trainer and coach Hutch Morgan, portrayed by Vince Vaughn. I liked it when he revealed how he joined WWE to realize his dreams, but found himself working as an enhancement talent (being thrown off cages to make others look good) for years. Having initially come across as a callous, patronizing trainer, he knows what it takes to become a superstar. Only someone with the whole package will handle it. He knew Zak didn’t have it, so he was saving him from a life of disappointment he’d experienced first hand. This was a turning point for Paige, as she was set free to not feel guilt for something out of her control.
Paige helped show WWE they needed more girls with wrestling experience. The audience can tell when someone can’t wrestle, and they will soon disrespect anyone who can’t back it up in the ring. When Paige made amends with those she had insulted, she used her experience to enhance everyone around her. She became a leader, pro active in helping everyone to improve. Showing maturity and team spirit, she was effectively doing a similar job to Zak, only with adults from all walks of life in the WWE Performance Center.
And of course, any time Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is on screen we get our money’s worth. Loved the phone call he had with Paige’s Dad. True story, although it happened later when he approached the family about making the documentary in to a movie; not when Paige was scheduled to join the main roster. Also, I liked his exchange with the fictional Hutch Morgan. I almost died when he called Hutch “sex tape”, because “he makes people famous”. Calling Hutch “sex tape” while talking to Paige, who is known for leaked sex videos .. was so on the nose. I couldn’t figure out if they were making a reference, or if it’s just something unrelated. Probably the latter.
The last good thing about this movie for me, was the match she had with Zelina Vega .. *cough* AJ Lee at the end. While I didn’t like one aspect (Zelina looks nothing like AJ, other than being short), I think they recreated the moment pretty well. It felt like a grand finish worthy of the wait. Florence Pugh was fantastic, I cannot say anything bad about her performance. She had the mannerisms down, the emotions were clear, and at times it was easy to forget I’m not watching the real Saraya.
Fighting With The Facts
I cannot claim to know every detail of Paige’s life, so some of these may not be correct. Having watched the movie and documentary, I find aspects that were possibly exaggerated, not touched upon, or fictional. There’s several examples, so let’s start at the beginning and make our way through the (albeit loosely) chronologically.
– While Paige did not grow up as a kid dreaming of WWE, her aspirations changed after becoming a wrestler at 13. The movie implies that Zak’s efforts and passion outweighs Paige’s, but in reality, she was far more worthy of a contract. In the documentary, their own Dad admits Zak is lazy, fat, and lacking muscle.
Paige though, is plastered all over posters because she’s a “product”, according to her Mum. The family knew who the draw was, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to Zak. In the movie, he is thin, ripped, and looks like a superstar with a decent haircut. This doesn’t really fit how he looks though, and there’s many other questions we can ask about him.
– In the documentary there is never a mention of Courtney, or Zak having a kid on the way. He’s only ever seen with the family or his students. She doesn’t really do much, even when he goes through severe depression. WWE wanted to take him on (he got to work a TV match with Big Show), but he had to train harder and grow more muscle mass.
The movie makes no mention of it though, nor does it touch on the injury sidelining him from a tryout. The documentary highlights his nonchalant attitude toward smoking and drinking, which makes WWE’s decision less surprising. He’s seen drinking a beer in a pub, at a time when he should’ve been training hard.
– When Paige is ready to go to America, Zak sees her off from the street outside their house. He tells his sister “not to cry, and “not to look back” when she gets to the terminal. In real-life, Zak didn’t bother getting out of bed to say goodbye to his sister, so she did not get the motivational speech outside the house.
It’s the only part of the documentary which shows the extent of how upset he was. Knowing this, it makes me wonder if he really did start a fight in the pub with four guys? Was he sitting on the sofa drinking while ignoring his newborn child? Did he decide to leave his students high and dry? It’s hard to say.
– When Paige returns to England after finding it difficult to adapt to America, it’s implied she wanted to quit. Zak is furious, to the point they get in the ring and he goes “off script”. The number one thing you are taught in wrestling, is to protect your opponent; whether you like them or not. You can’t perform moves on the fly, without the other helping you or protecting themselves.
I believe the “shoot match” is fictional or exaggerated. If anyone found out he was shooting moves like that, who would hire him? No one is going to sign a guy who purposely put his sister in harms way. We can say he did it to prove a point, to motivate her in to not giving up? But going to the extreme of forcing a pinfall on her the hard way? You can be the judge.
– The role of their brother Roy is different. In the movie it is implied his rejection by WWE was what lead him to being imprisoned due to a downward spiral. Roy was not in prison for long, and I think it’s overstated how much his release helped Zak get over his depression; although it may have played a part. Not much is made of Roy in the documentary, while the movie sets him up as a haunting example of what could happen if they fail.
– When Paige is leaving for America in the documentary, she is seen crying while hugging her parents, looking back several times heading to the terminal. In the movie, she avoids turning around due to her brother’s advice. She never looks back and puts her hood up (she cries but does not let them see). She makes it to America and gets her own place. In contrast to the movie, where she immediately feels alone and out-of-place, the documentary shows us a happy Paige messing about on a speed boat.
– In the movie, when Paige is shown on her own in the villa, she tries ringing Zak several times. He refuses to respond, and later tells her he’d been too busy. In reality, Paige started missing her family after a couple of weeks. She soon perks up though .. when she has quality time over Skype with her Dad, Roy and Zak. They are all very happy to see her. Zak was not avoiding her anymore, but the movie continues to imply he kept avoiding her.
– When Paige accidentally insults the other signees by judging them, it paints her in a way which could be considered socially awkward. It doesn’t help that Florence (nothing against her, she was great) comes across more like the outcast who can’t fit in with the jocks and cheerleaders. And I can’t say for sure if dying her hair blond and getting a tan is true .. but I’d be surprised if it is. Why would Saraya completely transform herself to feel like she’s not the ugliest girl in the room? Felt really false to me. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t.
– As stated earlier, returning to England with the intention to quit doesn’t sound like Paige. Yet, it’s understandable why the movie says she does, as it gives her a reason to return to England to confront Zak. But what confused me more was the stage fright. She struggles to talk in front of an audience, when she’s been doing it confidently for years. In the documentary, she plays a heel and hilariously destroys a room full of kids without a care in the world.
To me, she’s never come across as being afraid of the microphone, but the movie plays to it a lot. Even when confronting AJ Lee, there it is again. You go back and watch the actual segment on Raw, and you’ll see Paige does not freeze for a second. She never paused for what felt like an eternity. We know Saraya’s always had confidence in front of the camera.
– Her NXT days were greatly skipped over. Why? Because the reality severely harms the ending they wanted. In NXT, Paige stood out as the “Anti-Diva”, showing unmatched confidence in the ring and on the mic. After breaking down barriers, she defeated Emma in a tournament final to become the first NXT Women’s Champion. With Triple H on hand to award it, she cried and celebrated it with her fellow wrestlers. They did not want to show Paige playing a confident heel. It would work against the moment where she hesitated in front of AJ Lee.
– As stated earlier, The Rock’s involvement was exaggerated. While he may have influenced WWE’s decision to promote Paige to the main roster, he did not ring the family to inform them of it. Instead, he only got in contact when he wanted to do a movie featuring them. Also, the backstage incident where The Rock went full promo mode on Paige and Zak? Never happened. It was just something cool to put in the trailer.
While aspects of Fighting with My Family are exaggerated or fictional, there’s a lot to admire. The acting and comedy shines through, and the cameo appearances keep us guessing. There’s a lot of character development in Paige and Zak. It feels good in the end, when they find their true purposes in life. It’s understandable for the writer Stephen Merchant, to add new elements to keep the movie flowing. I think he did a good job, but I do question Zak’s character, as well as some other minor details. Not going to lose any sleep over it though.
Moving on, it really sucked when Paige had to retire. Hopefully one day, she can do a Shawn Michaels and have a few dream matches. And if not? At least the story of fulfilling her dream will be documented forever. The Knights may go down in history as the most popular British wrestling family ever, all thanks to Paige and the exceeding expectations of Fighting with My Family. Let’s hope they can inspire the next generation of talent with their story.
With a star rating out of 5, I’ll give this 4 stars. Or B+ if you prefer a school grade. Did you enjoy the movie? What was your favourite part? And if anything, what didn’t you like about it? Please let us know in the comments. Cheers guys! And thank you.