The dream started when she was 10.
That’s when young Saraya’s dad caught her and her brother, Zak, wrestling in the living room—and then proceeded to show Zak how to properly choke out his little sister. Yeah, that’s when Saraya Knight knew her life was going to be a bit different from that of most other kids.
Not that it was really all that much of a mystery.
After all, both of her parents were tattooed amateur wrestlers. They’d both logged many a night in local wrestling arenas in their hometown of Norwich, England. They’d met and fallen in love there, in fact, then had their drugged-out, dead-end lives transformed by the wrestling ring. And each week, the Knight clan virtually worshipped as a family in front of the televised church of World Wrestling Entertainment.
So Saraya’s place in the world seemed pretty clear.
Now that she’s 18, Saraya’s almost as passionate about the throws, leaps, pummels and high-flying body slams in the wrestling ring as her parents were.
Of course, none of them could approach the devotion of her brother, Zak. He can identify every WWE wrestler just by a picture of his boots. He knows every move, every throw, every feint. He knows his stuff and is willing to teach Saraya (and the other kids in the area) the ropes, too. So, while wrestling with each other on Saturday nights, the siblings have become star attractions in sleepy Norwich.
Maybe someday, it will be more.
Then that day comes.
After sending multiple tapes of themselves battling in the ring to the WWE, Saraya and Zak finally get a call for an audition. An actual audition on the next rung of the ladder to potential WWE fame.
But then something terrible happens: Saraya passes the audition … and Zak doesn’t. It’s impossible. He’s the one who knows everything. She pleads with the auditioning coach. Surely there’s been a mistake. Surely he must take Zak, too.
Coach Hutch, however, is adamant: It’s Saraya or nobody. She has that spark, he explains. But she’ll need a new name, a ring name.
Zak goes home, desperately disappointed. Meanwhile, Saraya goes to Florida to take the next step in her suddenly solo pro wrestling journey. But to Saraya, going alone feels almost unbearable. Until, that is, Zak reminds her that there’s something bigger at stake: “You’re not just doing this for yourself,” Zak tells her. “You’re doing it for the family.”
So Saraya goes.
She will fight for her family.
She will fight for the chance none of them ever got.
She will adopt the name of a character from her favorite TV show, Charmed, calling herself … Paige.
And, somehow, she will make it in the WWE.
During an impromptu interview, Saraya, now known publically as Paige, talks about the sense of comfort that being in the wrestling ring gives her. It’s the place where she was most able to connect with her family when she was growing up. It helped her “feel like she belonged somewhere.”
And that’s a big part of this film’s message. It’s not just a story of an underdog reaching for her potential, but of a family connecting and loving each other in the only way they really know how. For all of their faults, flaws and rough-edged failings, the one thing that’s clear is this family’s unwavering love for one another.
For example, when Paige comes home at one point and announces that she doesn’t want to continue with her training, both parents are initially shocked and almost angry. After all, she’s living out their dream. But both eventually come around, expressing once more their love and their unconditional support for whatever decision their daughter makes. “You are the spark in our lives,” Dad tells Paige lovingly.
In another situation, Paige recognizes that her brother is suffering. He has a girlfriend who loves him, as well as a newborn son. But all he can do is fixate on his depressed agony after losing out on his dream of being a pro wrestler. But Paige assures him that the impact he has with his family and the kids in the community is incredibly valuable. “Just ’cause millions of people aren’t cheering what you do, it doesn’t mean it’s not important,” she tells him. In time, Zak accepts that fact, too, and we see him reengage with the mother of his child and positively influence the lives of local kids.
Zak also has a conversation with his older brother, Roy. Years before, Roy had harbored professional WWE aspirations, too. But he tells Zak that their sister has something that Roy never had. Zak is curious to know what this is. “She had you,” Roy says simply.
At one point it feels as if Coach Hutch is making cruel choices with both Paige and her brother. But he later explains his reasons. And he notes the ways a failed attempt at fame—and the very tempting nature of fame itself—can be a destructive force in someone’s life. In fact, Coach Hutch admits, it’s the very thing that almost destroyed his own.
When Paige freezes up onstage, a number of hecklers in the audience jeer at her. “The power of Christ compels you,” one of them calls out derisively.
We see a number of young women training for the WWE spotlight along with Paige. They don’t have her wrestling skills, but they are all model and cheerleader types who expose much of their toned bodies at every turn. (And the camera’s eye is more than happy to linger on those bodies.) We see the women in skimpy bikinis and revealing gym wear. They also lounge around a pool with buff guys in swimsuits. The women flaunt their bodies in the ring to the cheers of predominantly male audiences. (Paige, on the other hand, never wears revealing gym wear, even during a big TV debut.)
Paige and others joke about a teen becoming sexually aroused during a workout. The boy grabs his crotch in embarrassment. There’s also a running joke about Zak accidentally exposing himself in a past wrestling match.
Paige’s mom and dad begin making out at the dinner table after talking about how they met and fell in love. We hear that Coach Hutch’s nick name is “Sextape” because of his ability to make people famous. It’s obvious that Zak and his girlfriend are not married. And if they marry during the course of the story, we don’t see or hear about it.
The coach lobs typical heckler insults at Paige in a practice session, and she deflects the harsh comments with crude innuendo and sexually tinged barbs of her own.
It’s often stated that pro wrestling is a “fake” sport, in the sense that the outcome of a match is predetermined and the performance is supposed to be choreographed to make it as safe and pain-free as possible. However, this film also demonstrates how painful, thumping violence is still part and parcel of the sport, no matter how “fake” it supposedly is.
For instance, while trying to book a fellow wrestler for a local gig, Dad thumps a guy in the face with a trash can lid and hits him in the crotch with a bowling ball, with expected results. We see Paige practicing with less-experienced female wrestlers, and one of them repeatedly elbows Paige in the face. She retaliates with an open hand slap to the girls head. In another match, a male wrestler purposely pulls no punches with Paige. He throws her down forcefully to the mat several times, then picks her up and slams down on top of her head before the match is halted.
A number of different people get pummeled in the ring and pounded into the ring floor. People are kicked in the chest and stomach. And some are grabbed by the neck and sent flying across the ring. Someone falls out of the ring onto a metal table, and another is slammed to a mat covered in thumbtacks. (We later watch him painfully pull the tacks out of his back.)
Zak starts a drunken brawl with four men, punching them, throwing pool balls at their bodies and heads and breaking a pool cue over one guy’s back. We’re told a story about Zak’s older brother, Roy, who did something similar—an incident that left a man in a coma and put Roy in prison. While talking about wrestling over dinner, Dad details some of the ways his body has been broken by the sport. And Mom suggests that his genitals have suffered, too. Mom also admits that she was on the verge of suicide before meeting Paige’s father and getting involved with wrestling.
About half a dozen s-words are joined by multiple uses each of “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “h—,” “d–n,” “a–” and “crap.” There are also numerous British vulgarities and crude phrases in the dialog’s mix, too, such as “bloody,” “w-nker,” “b-llocks,” “arse” and the phrase “d-ck me dead and bury me pregnant.” God and Jesus’ names are abused four or five times total. There are many vulgar references made to the male and female anatomy. Someone uses a crude hand gesture.
We see people drinking beer and alcohol in a bar and at home. A depressed Zak gets drunk. A youth in the Knights’ Norwich neighborhood sells drugs on the side. Zak discourages him from doing so and later even pulls him away from the dealer.
We hear that both Mom and Dad were heavy abusers of drugs and alcohol in their youth. In fact, Dad admits to being a teetotaling alcoholic.
Dad says he was once a thief, for which he was sent to prison. He worries that he might have to return to that lifestyle.
Based on the real-life story of the World Wrestling Entertainment Diva champion known professionally as Paige, Fighting With My Family plays out like a WWE match itself. It’s a by-the-numbers underdog story—with bulging muscles, garish tattoos, fleshy curves and full-throated, artery-bulging, arms-above-your-head bellowing.
The film’s characters have a rough edged look. But in reality, when you look beneath the surface, they’re quite lovable folks. In fact, as played by the impressive Florence Pugh, Saraya “Paige” Knight is especially endearing. You can’t help but cheer for her. For that matter, you can’t help but cheer for her winsome and hard-hitting family members, too. The Knights all take on life with a standing leap from the top rope, while still openly loving one another with an earnest tear in their eye.
Also similar to a WWE match, however, are this movie’s inevitable low blows. The boo-worthy moments. That less-admirable stuff includes a long litany of fast-and-furious profanities. And British crudities likewise riddle nearly every square inch of this pic’s sweaty celluloid. Add in ample amounts of bikini-girl fleshiness, and you’ve got enough thumping content here to make some viewers stagger.
This film’s crude content side may not hurt as much as a chair to the head. But it still leaves a nasty mark on this otherwise inspirational story.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.