By: Simson Garcia
Let’s take a journey to the center of the WWE universe. There’s slams, suplex’s and dropkicks. There’s steaming pyrotechnics, glamour, glitz and all the bright sights and sounds from its WWE superstars. As we journey, we slowly feel a pull—a sort of inescapable engulfing pull of black hole proportions. Suddenly, we traverse through to Saraya “Paige” Bevis's world, played by Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Outlaw King). You Ready?
The “oohs” and “ahhs” shower the wrestling arena as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson performs setting the stage for then-10 year old Saraya, who like many who've ever dreamed of something big, birth’s the idea of becoming a WWE wrestler in her living room in front of the TV screen. In that space, she along with her brother Zak “The Zodiac” Bevis, played by Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Calibre) scuffle over a remote control, with Saraya paradoxically jostling to tune to her favorite TV series Charmed (the show that includes a character named Paige from whom she adopts her ring name). They’re then joined by their parents Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” and Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis who coach the two during their fight. The Bevis family who hail from Norwich, England thus immerses themselves into the wrestling world with the building of their own wrestling promotion and legacy from here on.
The family carries this enamored charisma which translates to the ring. Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) act dedicatedly in their roles as parents owning that charisma and are hilariously funny throughout. One thing I always look for, and during instances of films without an A-lister, or, biographical movies centered on a lead played by a relative newcomer is the support. Like a wrestling match, every body and every move is coordinated and has to be well-executed to move the crowd. With everything in its right place, a sort of foundation is built upon where success follows and this foundation is what launches Saraya and actress Florence to prominence. In doing so, I rolled with every “clothesline.” Even the small supporting roles such as the prospective wrestlers the Bevis’ train with I thought wedged things that more tightly and evenly.
And so 18-year old Saraya and Zak grow up to be wrestlers fighting routinely at their family gig and get their first crack at the WWE after countlesss phone call hassles by the family to WWE trainer Hutch Morgan, played by Vince Vaughn (Dodgeball, Hacksaw Ridge) to give Zak and Saraya a shot. Their break arrives with tryouts at the nearby O2 Arena. Out of a dozen wrestlers that train, Saraya's picked but with dismay to her and Zak. Saraya urges Hutch to also pick Zak or she’ll quit but Hutch doesn’t budge to her ultimatum and Saraya chooses to stay and train. Saraya follows up her training at the next level with NXT, a minor league to the WWE. There she goes through the physical and mental demands which take a toll on her. One of her troubles is training with women as she's fought male wrestler's her entire life. She struggles keeping up with the competition, being unable to fit in with other wrestlers (with her goth-like appearance), momentarily quits her journey and consequentially returns home. Meanwhile, Zak continues to press Hutch to sign him but to no avail which spirals him into depression and alcoholism.
During a Christmas-themed gig, Zak’s booked to reunite with his sister for a match which doesn’t bode well. It’s revealed to their parents Saraya's leave from NXT and that Zak didn't make the WWE because Hutch didn’t truly believe he could cut it in the entertainment business. We then follow Saraya’s return to NXT in full force. The next part of the film is what I loved most. It contains those Rocky-esque “feels” as she resurges and transforms herself into Paige. We’re taken from the streets of Norwich to the big stage and we are with Paige every step of the way. Then, we all escape as Paige finally gets her big break. Hutch invites all remaining trainees to WrestleMania XXX and Paige is brought to a suite with The Rock who tells her and her family through the phone that her first WWE match would be for the Women’s championship the very next day. This brought me 8 Mile, and again, all the Rocky movie feels.
Zak’s story is a feel-good tale as well. Even as he’s numerously put down in his attempts at the WWE, we see redemption in him as he escapes depression and continues to train the prospects at the Bevis promotion—one of whom is a blind person who later becomes a professional wrestler. This is an odd comparison but it hearkened back to Million Dollar Baby where Morgan Freeman’s character returns to the gym to train the prospects after that tragic ending. The point here is, it instilled in me, hope.
I feel like I set the bar too low with Fighting but it put me over the top by the end. It’s such a simple biographical story but had careful touch throughout. Yes, it's a bit glamorized as Paige revealed recently that Dwayne never yelled at her and Zak during one scene. Hutch's not a real person, but an amalgam of all her trainers. Everything is woven together nicely though and never steers too far off balance. Paige has this wit, brazenness, and charm about her and Florence captured her presence excellently. Again, Nick and Lena carried and nurtured this movie as parents do and made this look and feel like a real family. The supporting crew helped smooth things out even more with their small roles and they too worked to create a family enviornment. One may expect everything a biopic has to offer, yet bound with intent and gripped together efforletlessly the whole way is Paige's story. Like Paige, we get tore down at some points, but the rise is of tantamount intensity. The scene where Paige awaits nervously for her WWE debut by herself in the locker room is a notch above many because it’s both the viewer and Paige who tense up and get butterflies. It’s cliché I know, but Fighting with My Family exemplifies finding “light at the end of the tunnel.”