(The following contains spoilers for the film Fighting with My Family.)
I’ll admit it–I watch professional wrestling.
I realize this may come as a shock to those of you who know me since I’m over the age of seven, I can form complete sentences (most of the time), and my parents aren’t related (as far as I know). But maybe it’s not that weird after all. I mean, if you think about it, wrestling combines all the elements of great television–compelling storylines, fascinating characters, action, drama, and comedy. Throw in the illusion of competitive sports, and you’ve got yourself a show that’s worth watching when it’s done right.
No, it’s not always great. Sometimes it’s downright awful. Some of the characters are laughably stupid, sometimes the stories are boring, and often the in-ring action is botched worse than a discount facelift. It’s not good television all the time. But that can be said of a lot of shows that, on the whole, are pretty entertaining. I won’t argue that it’s the most intellectually stimulating thing on television, but it has its moments.
Given all of that, it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed Fighting with My Family, the new movie from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Studios about the real-life story of Saraya-Jade Bevis (a.k.a. Paige). For those familiar with Paige’s work in WWE, it’s an exciting look at her journey from wrestling local gigs against her parents and her brother to becoming the youngest “Divas” champion in WWE history. Wrestling fans will also appreciate how the business of wrestling is portrayed—while no one pretends that the matches aren’t scripted, it’s clear that it takes a LOT of effort and skill to be successful (as well as to keep from seriously injuring yourself or your opponent).
But you don’t have to be a wrestling fan, or even know much about the world of pro wrestling, to enjoy the film. Because Fighting with My Family is more than just a movie about wrestling, or even a movie about a wrestler. It’s the age-old story of a young woman who gets the opportunity of a lifetime and then fights like hell to make the most of it. It just so happens that this young woman prefers headlocks and bodyslams over dolls and tea parties.
What makes Paige’s story so compelling isn’t just the fact that she has to deal with a ton of obstacles in order to make it to the WWE main roster. It’s the fact that, because those obstacles—the physical punishment, the overwhelming loneliness, the struggle to fit in—are so extreme, Paige has to make sure that being a WWE superstar is something she really wants. She’s grown up in a wrestling family, and wrestling is all she’s ever known. And, initially, that’s the only reason she can think of for wanting to make it her career.
But there comes a time in every young person’s life when she has to decide whether what she’s always grown up with is really right for her. If Paige had continued to wrestle for her parents, or her brother, or her community, she never would have made it. It’s not until she commits to wrestling for herself that she finds the strength she needs to make the cut and claim her title on national television.
The film also tells the very relatable story of a young man who has to come to terms with the fact that, unlike his sister, his dreams will never be realized. Paige’s brother Zak has wanted to do nothing but wrestle for as long as he can remember. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t have what the WWE is looking for, and he’s forced to watch Paige live the life he’s always fantasized about. Things take a very dark turn until he realizes that, even if he never headlines Wrestlemania, he can still live a full, satisfying, productive life right there at home. Besides being a father to his own son, he finds joy in mentoring the neighborhood youth and teaching them the wrestling skills his father taught him.
Does the film accurately tell Paige’s actual story? I can’t say. I know some liberties are taken with how Paige’s WWE main roster debut is portrayed, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten in terms of research. But I don’t really care, and that’s kind of the point. Pro wrestling is, by definition, a work of fiction. It’s athletes telling stories with both their words and their actions—not much different from most good television. So if Stephen Merchant (co-creator of The Office) and his writing team manipulate the facts a bit to tell a more compelling story about an industry where the story is the most important thing, then I’m okay with that.
Trust me–even if you don’t like wrestling, you’ll like this film. And if you need another reason to see it, I’ve got two words for you: The Rock. I probably should have led with that one.