✰✰✰✰ (out of five)
Synopsis: Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Paige and her brother Zak are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her loved ones behind and face this new cutthroat world alone. Paige's journey pushes her to dig deep and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star.
Review: A well-done, perfect five-star wrestling match has a perfect balance of story, psychology and time length. Don't tell a good story, and a 15-minute match feels like an eternity. Engulf the audience of the emotion, pageantry and narrative, and a 60-minute match's length becomes inconsequential. Such is the showdown the fact-based "Fighting with My Family" faces with a film that has problems with execution of its wit and heart.
Writer-director Stephen Merchant was a unique choice to tell the story of Saraya-Jade Bevis aka WWE Superstar Paige. Even more unique is the pairing of Merchant with producer Dwayne Johnson, no stranger to the squared circle himself after years as WWE legend The Rock. Merchant is a very reserved, classically portrayed dry British humor, while Johnson very much is a charismatic, outgoing and energetic. But Bevis' story needs that ying and yang. Her family--dad played by Nick Frost, mom by Lena Headley--is bombastic for the sport and entertainment that is pro wrestling. The business as a whole is all about larger than life and gimmicky plots and characters. Bevis' story requires a dial down from 11. Florence Pugh as Bevis is witty, feisty and full of passion. Much like her real-life counterpart, she has a charm that penetrates through non-standard WWE look.
At its core, "Fighting with My Family" is like any other: success has hurdles, haters and loved ones left behind. You can apply the general plot outline to a number of genres and environments: stock brokers, politics, sports, singing (last year's "A Star is Born," anyone?). What Merchant and Johnson are able to work with is being able to keep the mainstream stigma the industry faces many times at arms length to tell a timeless Hollywood tale. It doesn't get lost in the nooks and crannies of the industry's dark corners.
Despite these qualities, the film still fails from that perfect execution. The structure is basic and not too terribly dynamic. While much of the casting expertly fits, I could not for the life of me buy into Vince Vaughn as a former wrestler turned WWE recruiter. His brand of humor, of which I have never been a fan of, does not meld with the rest of film's. Bevis' leaving home and grungy indie wrestling 4,000 miles behind for the glitz and glamour of packed arenas for WWE is very much a fish out of water tale. You can apply that to Vaughn's casting, too. He's a fish that doesn't fit anywhere in this.
As a pro wrestling fan, I couldn't help but recall certain events differently--namely, Bevis' WWE main roster debut as Paige in 2014. But it's a minor quibble. The saying goes you have to fake it to make it. "Fighting with My Family" is a film based around a business criticized for being fake but has a beating heart with a real story to sell.