Sundance 2019: Fighting with My Family

Florence Pugh appears in Fighting with My Family by Stephen Merchant, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Telling the story of WWE Superstar Paige, Fighting with My Family is a comedy that manages to delight viewers regardless of whether they like wrestling.

Born Saraya-Jade Bevis (Florence Pugh), she would eventually adopt the professional name of Paige.  Our story starts long before she joined the WWE.  Paige was born into a wrestling family, including both her father, Ricky (Nick Frost), and mother, Julia (Lena Heady).  Following a brief prologue, we see how she and her brother, Zak Zodiac (Jack Lowden), are teaching wrestling skills to the youth of Norwich.  Much to my surprise, this even includes a blind teenager.

When they learn of a WWE try-out in England, both Paige and Zak get excited.  The two of them have the opportunity to make their family proud!  The reality is that there’s a chance that one or none of them might make it.  Of course, this film is a true story so of course, Paige earns the spot.  You can see the disappointment in Zak’s face and feel for him.  It’s not a surprise to see Zak spiraling into depression and taking it out on others.

Winning the try out means relocating to the United States for training.  This is where Paige has to work hard under the care of Hutch (Vince Vaughn).  She becomes a true underdog in every sense of the word.  This is a woman who has to decide what it means to wrestle at the next level.  She’s no longer just fighting against her brother in the ring as a way of showing off.  This is the real deal!  Family has a way of messing with one’s head.  When Paige comes home for the holidays and sees how Zak is behaving, it means rethinking her future.  Does she want to be happy or does she want her family to be happy?  This proves to be the real turning point for the film.

To say that Florence Pugh is absolutely amazing as Paige would not be an understatement.  Her performance shows that Lady Macbeth was no fluke.  Make no mistake that Pugh is a star on the rise and her performance proves it.  This even includes the “pile driver” move and that’s no easy feat to pull off!

I went into this film knowing that Florence Pugh is a rising star and the film comes from Dwayne Johnson.  Johnson himself provides some of the film’s most comical and emotional moments in a very small role.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.  Not because I don’t like wrestling but because of how funny the film is for a sports movie.  For a film about wrestling, I thought this would be a serious film along the lines of 2008’s The Wrestler.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Stephen Merchant’s uplifting screenplay goes for laughs while touching on the family dynamics with a strong woman at the core.  The co-creator of The Office is probably one of the last people anyone would think about when it comes to wrestling.  Yet here we are both laughing and crying at how well the film turned out.

Fighting with My Family is an uplifting comedy that is able to give us all the feels.  If Johnson never saw the documentary about Paige, it’s possible that the film may never have happened.  But because he did, we get a delightful crowd-pleaser.

CAST:  Florence Pugh, Lena Heady, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, with Vince Vaughn and Dwayne Johnson

Fighting with My Family held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section as a Surprise Screening. MGM will release the film in select theaters on February 14, 2019. An expansion will follow on February 22, 2019. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.