The film “Fighting With My Family” centers on the story of former WWE superstar ‘Paige.’ Her character is believably portrayed by BAFTA nominee Florence Pugh (The Little Drummer Girl). Growing up in Norwich, England, Paige, whose real name is Saraya-Jade Bevis, dreamt of wrestling for the WWE. Those dreams were not discouraged by her family. Her father, Ricky Knight (Nick Frost), mother, Julia, played by Golden Globe nominee Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), and brother Zak, acted by BAFTA winner Jack Lowden (Calibre), were all wrestlers, working for Ricky’s independent, England based wrestling promotion the WAW (World Association of Wrestling). Additionally, Zak teaches children in the neighborhood how to wrestle in a class he runs at his father’s gym. He does so, for example, to give children a positive environment in which to socialize and learn, in order to keep them away from drugs and working for the neighborhood’s drug dealers.
In the interim, while performing wrestling shows and overseeing the running of the gym, Ricky would periodically send WWE talent scouts, tapes of Paige and Zak wrestling. One day, Hutch Morgan, played by Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers), calls and offers Paige and Zak an opportunity to come and tryout for WWE, at The O2 Arena in London. The two siblings couldn’t be more ecstatic. (As an aside: Saraya, who wrestled under the name Britani in England, had to change her name, because, at the time, the WWE already had a Britani. She chose the name Paige based off of a character played by Rose McGowan from her favorite television show “Charmed”).
At the conclusion of the tryout, the only person Hutch picks to come with him to America to NXT, the WWE’s developmental training center, located in Orlando, Florida, is Paige. Zak is devastated by not being chosen to advance his dream; especially since its recently been revealed to him that his girlfriend, Courtney, (Hannah Rae) is pregnant. He had hoped that his elevation to NXT, would be the beginning of a lucrative path to being able to provide for everyone in his life. Paige is as equally as distraught as Zak, and threatens to not travel to America, if he can’t go with her. While I certainly understand Zak’s disappointment, and Paige’s familial love for her brother, and wanting to stand up for him, Morgan’s response, rightly so, is that for every person like Paige, who gets an opportunity to perhaps become a part of the WWE, the pinnacle promotion in wrestling, there are a thousand other people, each week, who get told that they just don’t have what it takes. Paige relents at the behest of her brother, who reminds her that she’s not just doing it for herself, but most importantly her family’s possible financial welfare. Paige decides that for the betterment of her family, she’ll take the next step and move to Florida. (As an aside: Former WWE wrestling superstar turned actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Ballers), who served as a co-producer on the film, and has several cameos throughout the movie, played an instrumental role in getting the film made. During the filming of “Fast and Furious 6” in the UK, Johnson was watching television in his hotel room, when he came across the 2012 documentary called “The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family” about the Knight family. Johnson loved the family’s fighting spirit, and reached out to his contacts in the film industry about turning the documentary into a feature length film).
When Paige arrives in Florida to begin her training, she stands out in several ways. Firstly, her raven hair, dark eyeliner, and pale skin clashes with the predominately blonde and tanned females she will be competing with. Secondly, she is seemingly the only female, who has had wrestling experience. The backgrounds of the other ladies, who’ve been selected to tryout, were mainly in cheerleading, dancing and modeling. Paige doesn’t have much time to worry about trivialities because once she’s at the NXT development center, she, along with everyone else is put through a rigorous exercise and training program by Hutch Morgan.
Hutch walks around with a horn, and lets everyone know, that if they want out of the agony, all they need to do is squeeze the horn and they can go home. The horn is squeezed a number of times by different people. Those who don’t voluntarily quit, however, are not safe, cuts are made on a weekly basis, for those who’ve not shown enough promise to be future WWE wrestlers. Paige, for the first time in her life, begins to doubt her abilities. She misses her family. She misses her friends, having not connected with the other girls, and is not only in physical pain from the rigors of the training, but feels lonely and isolated. Furthermore, her in-ring persona, which she has had success with over the years, also comes into question. She is forced to make a choice, as to whether or not to keep persevering with what got her to NXT in the first place, or to change her personality and take her chances.
“Fighting With My Family” premiered on January 28, 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was written and directed by three time BAFTA winner Stephen Merchant (The Office). Parts biography – comedy – drama and sport, the movie has a runtime of 108 minutes. This is the sort of film that champions the underdog, which can be enjoyed by wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike. The story, in many ways, could be considered heartfelt. I am a wrestling fan, so I know what transpired in real life, but even with that knowledge, I found myself rooting for Paige to overcome the obstacles placed in front of her, and to achieve her dreams.