Over the past year, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been taking over Hollywood with his mindless action films and various comedies; so it was only natural that at some point he would make a film about his own career and talents in the WWE. His role as producer in the new sports biopic Fighting with my Family–which documents the true story of famous wrestler Paige (real name Saraya Bevis)–resonates through the entire film due to his obvious influence over the creation of it and his brief cameo as himself.
However, the film isn’t supposed to be about The Rock or the WWE, even though it ends up being just that. The audience is led through Saraya Knight’s rise to power, and how she became the youngest woman to win the Divas Championship Title at only 21. For reasons unknown to me, the writer of this film changed Saraya Bevis’ real name to Saraya Knight. Knight was the surname of her early stage name, and the makers of Fighting with my Family must have thought it was a more accessible name than Bevis, so they made it the entire family’s name. This is one of many decisions that confuses me throughout this film’s runtime. I understand that some liberties must be taken when telling a true story in order to make it more interesting and accessible, but so many are taken here that some parts of the movie are pure fiction with no resemblance to the actual events.
Fighting with my Family does get a lot of things right–in particular, the casting. All of the acting in this movie is excellent, and frankly the product as a whole is that much better because of all the performances. Florence Pugh (Outlaw King, The Commuter) plays Knight (Bevis) with ease, making her job look easier than it actually is. Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Calibre) gives a typically emotionally powerful performance as the brother of the female protagonist even though his character is taken in a mundane and overused direction that grated on the pacing of the film. Vince Vaughn also shines as the snappy coach for the NXT program with the best jokes in the film, and Dwayne Johnson is hilarious despite his minuscule screen-time.
Writer/director Stephen Merchant brings his signature wit to the film’s script, which also helps it become more watchable than if they had created a stoney-faced sports biopic. After all, Merchant penned much of The Office, which is the gold standard when it comes to modern comedy. However, it doesn’t seem that Merchant can structure a plot as well as he can tell jokes, for the repetition and seen-it-before mentality of the plot drags this movie down. Any person who has seen an inspirational sports movie will know, step for step, the route this movie is going to take before it even makes the turns. As each pivotal scene starts, I could immediately tell whether the protagonist was going to embarrass herself or come out victorious, and I was heavily disappointed to find I was right every time I tried to guess the outcome of the scene.
The amount of cliché that Fighting for my Family contains just makes the historical inaccuracies of the story all that more pointless. If they had just stuck to the true story with relative accuracy, then the producers would have had an original and solid film on their hands. The second half of the film in particular was so cookie-cutter (she hits a low point because she thinks she isn’t good enough; brother, father & mother make rousing speeches; she gains the courage to try again; etc.) that I was wanting her to succeed just so the movie would be over. The good and essential messages that it expresses (people who don’t look like a supermodel are often excluded without regard for their talent; the average person isn’t as simple as they look) are overshadowed by the boring plotline, and there just generally isn’t enough thematically to get me to remember this movie in a mont
Apparently, Dwayne Johnson was inspired to pursue this project when he saw the 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with my Family, which details the same events that this movie covers, but with far more accuracy (obviously). Watching this documentary was supposedly the first he heard of this story, which also means his cameo in this movie would have had to be entirely fictionalized. I wouldn’t mind this much if the film didn’t imply near the end that Johnson had a major part to play in getting Paige famous. It gives Johnson and Vince Vaughn’s character (who is also fictionalized) much of the credit for her breakout, and this takes away much of the kudos that Saraya Bevis deserves for her own fame. This film should empower her, but it instead decides to further inflate Johnson’s ego and become a big advertisement for the WWE.
To be fair, Fighting with my Family is good easy watch, and it would probably be sufficient to have on in the background at a party or if something mindless is needed to watch out of boredom. However, any originality that could be squeezed out of Saraya Bevis’ story is mostly voided by the Hollywood commercialization of the piece. Look for the performances when watching, and Google Jack Lowden and Florence Pugh, because both of those actors are going to places far better than Fighting with my Family. As much as this film tries to overcome its flaws with its inspirational story and passionate performances, the over-adherence to boring clichés drags it down to average and forgettable territory.
I give Fighting with my Family a C.