“Fighting With My Family”

 

            “It's not fake, it's scripted.”  That's the mantra of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), the professional wrestling mecca that every wrestler dreams about.  But this isn't Olympic-style wrestling, this is entertainment wrestling, that is, it's theater.  It hearkens back to vaudevillian days of good verses evil, with the crowd cheering the good guy and jeering the bad guy.  Or, if they prefer, switch allegiances, if they feel like it.  Because it's all about the performers who can put a buzz in the crowd.

            But of course you don't just step into the wrestling ring untutored.  You have to pick up your training somewhere.  Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) grew up with the culture, because her Dad, Ricky (Nick Frost), a former wrestler himself, sets up a kind of homemade traveling show, performing at small venues around England.  It's a family affair:  his wife, Julia (Lena Headey) is also a former wrestler, and they've raised their children in the business, as well.  Zak (Jack Lowden), especially, dreams of a wrestling career, but so does his sister Saraya, and they remain friendly sibling rivals, right up until that unforgettable moment when they both get a call from a representative of the WWE organization.  Hutch (Vince Vaughan) invites both Zak and Saraya to a kind of wrestling boot camp, but only Saraya makes the cut.  Zak is absolutely devastated, because it's all he's ever wanted to do.  Saraya then graduates to the next boot camp, this time in Florida, where she meets other hopefuls.  And notices that the women all look like models, cheerleaders, dancers, or all three.  She doesn't consider them “real” wrestlers because they really don't know the ropes, so to speak.  There's a certain choreography to the violent ballet, and a misstep can get somebody seriously hurt.  But the other girls don't like her much, either, because she's a loner and a misfit, but eventually, they learn some mutual respect.  They're going to need it, because Hutch never lets up on them.  And never quits searching for the one who has that certain spark, that's going to ignite a bellowing crowd.

            Florence Pugh is believable in the role, and writer/director Stephen Merchant keeps it real with all the cussing and gutter talk that a PG-13 rating can tolerate.  This is the body-piercing-tattoo crowd, and making a significant cameo is their own superstar, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who's obviously become a movie star in his own right.  This is “based” on the true story of Saraya Jade “Paige”Bevis, who was the youngest ever, at age 21, to win the WWE “Diva” championship. 

            No, it's not exactly what you'd like your grandchildren to strive for when they grow up.  But it is a well-told story of an English girl who grew up fighting with her family, and turned it into a celebrity career.  “It's not fake, it's scripted.”

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association