HEADLINES:
August 18 2019
‘Fighting with my Family’ movie review: Templated biopic, fresh humour
06 April 2019

The film is packed with sharp wit and cultural punch but what about the exploitative nature of WWE?

Big Hollywood studios have a fixed template for sports biopics and underdog stories. You can pre-empt the narrative arc, the character building, the struggle, the slump, the perseverance, a motivational speech or two and then the inimitable triumph. Fighting with my Family, based on the life of WWE wrestler Paige, does very little to break away from that model. But while functioning within that realm of expectations and predictability, writer-director Stephen Merchant infuses the film with two elements that make it fresh: levity and cultural impudence.

Teenage siblings, Saraya-Jade aka Paige (an impressive Florence Pugh) and Zodiac Zak (Jack Lowden) are trained by their wrestler parents in the British small town of Norwich, who run a dilettante but passionate organisation, World Association of Wrestling. While Paige makes the cut at WWE tryouts in London and heads to Florida, Zak – the more success-hungry sibling – gets left behind, dejected and bitter.

Fighting with my Family
  • Director: Stephen Merchant
  • Cast: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson
  • Storyline: The journey of Saraya-Jade from being a small town wrestler in England to becoming a renowned WWE professional in the United States

As the film goes back and forth between England and the States, following the two characters, there are many cultural jibes on the British and Americans that land well, and form the central appeal of the film. One-liners like, “Dig me dead and bury me pregnant” and “That’s not an advice Jack, that’s a tweet!” are placed in moments that would traditionally be drama-heavy in biopics. The filmmaker (one of the creators behind U.K.’s The Office) doesn’t allow the film to take itself too seriously, and even when it makes a point, it proceeds to mock itself.

For those who watched WWE growing up, there’s some throwback with a recurring cameo by The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) and archival footage from the '90s and early 2000s. But from then to now, you know better. There’s enough material out there to substantiate the exploitative nature of WWE, particularly with regards to its wrestlers, and the promotion of violence and misogyny.

But to think that a film bankrolled by WWE Studios would venture into uncomfortable terrain would be rather naïve. Fighting with my Familywhitewashes and often glorifies the “sport” of WWE, projecting it to be psychically and mentally demanding but ultimately, rewarding and life-altering. The film addresses the criticism of taking women for their bikini bodies but quickly flips it over to depict how WWE provides livelihood to a single mother, who is more than just “tits and ass”.

The hardship (read: exploitation) is brushed off as rigour and fans of WWE are dubbed as misfits, much like the protagonist. The effort to elevate wrestling as a sport (and perhaps even performance art) is required, but I am unable to make peace with a narrative that overlooks the dark side of both failure and success in bargain for “entertainment”.

 

 

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