I’m a wrestling fan, y’know. Have been since I was about 5, I used to watch Smackdown with my cousin, my favourite was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (then again, he was everyone’s favourite. Nowadays, I’m in my mid-20’s and still love a good wrestling show, and you’ll usually find me at independent shows, whenever I can be there.
Of course, I know it’s fake, but then again, so was is Game of Thrones, and most films you see that aren’t documentaries. It’s not exactly high-brow entertainment, but it’s a method of storytelling as good as any other.
So, imagine my delight when it was announced that a film would be made, based around a documentary surrounding the Knight Family, a family of wrestlers from Norwich, England. I actually remember watching the documentary in question when it was first broadcasts, I remember certain events depicted here, from when they first happened, so all in all, it looked like an ideal film for me.
But, on the other hand, films tend to have a habit of portraying wrestling as a pass-time enjoyed only by slack-jawed rednecks, and treat the whole business, and its fan-base with vitriolic contempt. This isn’t always the case however, the pinnacle of wrestling-based films is of course 2008’s The Wrestler, a jarring, and very touching, story of a past-his-prime wrestler trying to cling to fame in a world that has passed him by. But there also exists films like Ready To Rumble, where the heroes of the piece are a pair of man-children, making fart jokes and generally showing about as much respect for wrestling as George Lucas shows his own franchises.
Given the fact that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was producing this film, however, it does give me hope that this film might be more on the side of The Wrestler as opposed to Ready To Rumble, but let’s find out.
A young wrestler, Saraya ‘Paige’ Knight, who comes from a family of wrestlers achieves the dream she shares with her brother and makes it to the WWE. However, along the way she will have to contend with family tensions and the struggles of living thousands of miles from home to achieve her ultimate ambition, becoming Diva’s Champion.
The story here, was on set-up perfectly by the documentary and real-life itself, Saraya (who I’ll refer to as Paige from here on in for clarity) was from a different world to the one to the one most of us grew up in, her whole family were wrestlers, but beyond that there’s a darker history to the Knight’s. Her father spent time in prison, as did her brother. Her mother is a former addict, these are all aspects of an underdog story waiting to happen, and credit to Stephen Merchant (the writer-director) he captures most of that story pretty well.
The film has the feel of a modern fairy-tale. A dreamer with a seemingly impossible dream, who achieves her goals and then some against all odds, it’s all very cheery stuff in itself, but take into account the circumstances of her background, it’s made all the sweeter.
I don’t think the film does enough with the darker history of the Knight’s to take full advantage however, I can see why, this is Paige’s story rather than a family history lesson, but the more a character has to overcome the more we invest in their story, and while it doesn’t shy away from portraying the harsh training a wrestler undergoes, it feels like it skates past details to get there.
It feels like this is done to achieve a PG-13 rating though, to reach as broad an audience as possible, which is fair enough, but I feel there is more to this story that was, if not untouched, then underutilised.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it however, because I did. In fact I think it may only miss out on the label of ‘best film about wrestling ever’ because The Wrestler exists. Which isn’t to take away from the films achievements, it’s a charming, heart-warming tale, that is well-acted and sharply directed.
The film is helmed by a strong performance from Florence Pugh, who I must admit I’d never heard of prior to this film, I’ll be keeping an eye on whatever she does next. The supporting cast is strong, boasting such names as Lena Headey (of Game of Thrones fame) and Nick Frost, as well as cameos from wrestling world figures, most noticeably Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in an extended cameo. I was especially impressed by the performance of Jack Lowden, who plays Paige’s brother Zac, who brings a few emotional dimensions to the story, as the one whose dreams were crushed, while their sisters come true.
It’s sharp direction comes courtesy of Stephen Merchant, emerging from the shadow of friend and former colleague Ricky Gervais in the past few years has done him the world of good, as the world sees that he has more to offer than simply being Ricky’s tall friend.
Where the direction, and camera work, comes alive for me is during the wrestling segments, where create camera angles and cuts create a solid impression of the emotions being conveyed by the wrestlers, it’s very solid work.
Overall then, while not being anything groundbreaking cinematically, Fighting With My Family delivers a solid story, held up by charismatic performances and eager direction, you could do a lot worse in terms of wrestling films, and I mean a LOT worse, but Fighting With My Family sits firmly in the upper echelons of this particular sub-genre.