Review: 'Fighting With My Family' gets the pin

Biopic about WWE grappler Paige works hits its move inside and outside of the ring

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Florence Pugh and Dwayne Johnson in "Fighting With My Family."

The classic Underdog Sports Movie gets the professional wrestling treatment in "Fighting With My Family," a muscle-bound crowd-pleaser with a surprisingly strong pedigree.  

Stephan Merchant, co-creator of the U.K.'s "The Office," writes and directs this story of WWE Superstar Paige, a pale-skinned bruiser from scrappy Norwich, England. Paige doesn't look, talk or act like your average WWE Diva, which made her fight harder than the cheerleaders and models trained to take suplexes in the ring. It turns out that wrestling is in her blood. 

Before she was Paige, she was Saraya Knight, who grew up in a goofball family of professional wrestlers. Mom ("Game of Thrones'" Lena Headey) and Dad ("Shaun of the Dead's" Nick Frost) run their own pro wrestling league, and groomed Saraya and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) to follow in their footsteps. When WWE's Smackdown makes a visit to London's O2 Arena, Saraya and Zak get a tryout. Saraya makes the cut and is asked to train in Florida, while Zak is tossed out of the ring, his dreams dashed. 

There's sibling jealousy. There are physical and mental hardships. There's a tough trainer (Vince Vaughn) who pushes Saraya to her limit to get the best out of her. But like the scripted spandex soap opera world it depicts, "Fighting With My Family" knows the clichés it's presenting, and depicts them well. (Producer Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shows up as himself, if you smell what the cross-promotion is cooking.)

A solid cast and Merchant's respectful approach elevates the material to the top rope, but it's rising star Pugh (fierce in 2016's "Lady Macbeth" and last year's "Outlaw King") who hits her finisher. As Paige, Pugh is tough but vulnerable, punk but fragile, and she sells this tale even as it gets caught up in WWE mythmaking. Someone give her a title shot.


'Fighting With My Family'


Rated PG-13: for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content

Running time: 108 minutes