Fighting With My Family is the latest WWE Studios film written and directed by British comedian Stephen Merchant. It boasts itself on being based on the real life story of Paige and the wrestling family she was born into, but it ultimately falls short on how interesting her story really is.
Spoiler Warning: The following review discusses the entire events of “Fighting With My Family” in detail. Proceed with caution.
In a recent WWE Chronicle episode about Paige, you see her having an emotional phone conversation with her parents and wrestlers Ricky and Saraya Knight after she learns that she won’t be able to wrestle anymore due to injuries. It’s a heart-wrenching moment that gives a lot of insight to her relationship with her family, even when she’s an ocean away.
In Fighting With My Family, the Knight Family’s connections to each other is the driving force of the biopic of Paige’s rise in WWE.
Based on the 2012 Channel 4 documentary of the same name, the Stephen Merchant written and directed film follows Raya aka Paige and her brother Zak as they try out for WWE. Zak falls short while Paige gets an offer, splitting up the inseparable duo as they fall victim to their own struggles.
Fighting With My Family at times feels like two different films that only manage to meagerly reconcile along the way. Whenever we see the Knight Family dynamic is when the film is at its best, with Nick Frost and Lena Headey being scene stealers as Rowdy Ricky Knight and Sweet Saraya respectively.
From there, we see the inseparable Raya and Zak, played by Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden respectively as they grow up, train together and work with teaching children in Norwich how to wrestle.
That is, until Raya gets chosen to go to NXT over Zak.
Pugh sinks so well into the role of Paige, nailing so many of her mannerisms and gestures that we as wrestling fans have seen over the years with an added layer of young self doubt that we’d only see for brief moments on shows like Total Divas.
Lowden as Zak though plays perfectly into the dynamic though and is what makes the film absolutely work when it does. Zak is a complicated figure, someone who absolutely loves the work he does, but his desperation to achieve the level of fame of The Rocks and the Stone Colds of the world and being jealous of Raya drives him to dark places when he fails, taking it out on the very family he was born into and the one that he made and skirting very close down the same path as his older brother Roy.
What surprised me about the film was how they were willing to show the unglamourous life of independent wrestling. Small crowds, struggling to keep the lights on, schools based out of warehouses, wrestlers breaking down the ring and caring for themselves… It’s easy to see why it weighs down on Zak so much. But what got me the most was when in the middle of an argument, Raya yells at him, “Just because millions of people aren’t cheering for you when you do it doesn’t mean it’s not important.”
However, when it comes to showing how Raya became Paige is when the film falls flat on its face.
Right from the tryout scene, where Raya is told to come up with a name on the spot, decides on naming herself after Paige Matthews from Charmed, and is offered her contract at the end of the tryout, I knew Merchant was about to make some weird choices with how the developmental system within WWE works. I was not really prepared for how weird it was though.
Raya ends up at the WWE Performance Center, which is one small room with two rings. She is part of NXT, which is not an actual division, but an extended tryout where they do house shows in one location and promos are treated like a mix of a rap battle from 8 Mile and the Reading Challenge from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
There is one coach for both men and women, played by Vince Vaughn channeling an unfortunate mix of a generic tough love coach and former FCW/NXT head coach Bill DeMott done up for laughs in the film’s weakest performance. While Raya does eventually strike a friendship with the women she’s training with, she’s the one who is jealous of them instead of the other way around as Paige has said in numerous interviews.
Neither Triple H, Norman Smiley, or Dusty Rhodes are anywhere to be seen in any of this.
As an absolute nerd for NXT, the portrayal of it in the film absolutely made me want to grind my teeth. While Paige was an outlier for the women’s division at the time and trained alongside models turned wrestlers like Summer Rae (who she does claim was the only one to be nice to her initially), she was signed to FCW not long before women like Bayley, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Emma came along.
Sara Del Rey, who is credited for having improved how women were taught to wrestle for WWE, had also signed to WWE as a PC coach around the same time as well. I get the legalities of clearance and condensing it to a 90 minute film, but the film completely disregards Paige’s time as NXT Women’s Champion for an extended episode of Tough Enough with double the beach training.
It doesn’t go for a pastiche of the truth with characters made up to stand in for the real life counterparts. It’s just a pastiche of better written sports movies that I would rather be watching like Stick It or Whip It. Even the familial jealousy angle is taken directly from A League of Their Own with Dottie and Kit.
So with no Triple H to be the mentor for the division, no Smiley to coach them, no Del Rey to drive the women’s division behind the scenes and no Rhodes to call Paige his “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” who does that leave us with? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, of course.
As executive producer of the film, Johnson inserts himself into Paige’s story to give her advice before she goes to tryout and is the one to tell her and her family that she’s moving up from NXT to the main roster.
The film is meant to be towards a more general audience and Johnson is the most recognizable figure from WWE in a modern era, but it feels so self-serving to have him be written into important parts of Paige’s life.
To top it all off, he ends up calling Vaughn’s character Hutch Morgan “Sex Tape.” “Because he makes people famous.” Given the fact Paige had a private sex tape leaked onto the internet back in 2017 that nearly drove her to suicide, including that joke at all in the final cut just feels like poor taste at best.
The film ends with Paige’s main roster debut against AJ Lee for the Divas Championship, which features Zelina Vega as Lee. Vega does a great job impersonating Lee’s cockiness, but as the cherry on top of creating a narrative of Paige being the sole weird girl to break down doors in WWE, Lee is turned into a generic Diva instead of the comics nerd in Chuck Taylors and cutoff jeans that she was and has her calling Paige “freak.”
Again, it just feels… odd, to say the least. I don’t know how much of that was Merchant and how much is WWE, and frankly, I don’t want to know. What makes it worse is that a clip of Paige pinning Lee is included in the credits, so it breaks the illusion of Paige as the sole outsider pretty quickly.
Still, when Paige won the Divas championship with Zak’s finisher and declared that it was her house now, I couldn’t help but tear up. I’m forever a sucker for happy endings and an absolute Paige mark through and through. Combine the two and I’m done in.
Fighting With My Family works best when it deals with The Knight Family. From their loving support to their petty squabbles, the ensemble of Pugh, Lowden, Frost, and Headey are a near perfect representation of their real life counterparts.
Their honesty and love is truly the heart of the film. However, the creative liberties the movie takes with Paige’s move through NXT to the main roster don’t feel very creative at all and leave much to be desired.
If you’re able to suspend your disbelief long enough, it’s a derivative, but still enjoyable sports film with a strong core cast to ground it that keeps the wrestling knowledge general enough for your mom to like it.
If you’re like me though and nearly yelled at the screen about how wrong it was multiple times, you’re probably going to just going to want to seek out the documentary and WWE Chronicle instead.