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Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 12:04 am

Family lacks knockout punch

 

The Knight family is a bunch of characters. The father, Ricky, has been a wrestling aficionado all of his life, so much so that he began training his children, Zak and Saraya, in the fine art of the grappling hold and pile driver at an early age. He transfers his dream of being part of World Wrestling Entertainment to them, fully expecting they will try out and be embraced by the organization. He winds up being half right as Zak fails to make the cut, but Saraya does, embarking on a career that takes a far greater toll than she ever thought it would.

This story is on full display in the English documentary series The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family, a fascinating look at this clan of oddballs.  Watching it for 10 minutes, you can see why Hollywood came calling to make a film about them.  They’re colorful, the world of the WWE has massive international appeal and Saraya’s underdog story is tailor-made to be shown on the big screen.

As written and directed by Stephen Merchant, Fighting with My Family gets the nuts and bolts of the story right but fails to capture the sense of heart necessary to sell this brand of soap.  While the strong cast hit their marks as well as state their lines and act their scenes with conviction, there’s a “been there, done that” aspect to the story that it just can’t shake, even though it sticks to the truth a good chunk of the time.

Following up her impressive turn in Lady Macbeth, Florence Pugh tackles the role of Saraya, changing her name to Paige, one of many alterations to her personality that she’s encouraged (told) to make at the behest of Hutch (a very good Vince Vaughn), her unofficial gruff-on-the-outside, heart-of-gold-on-the-inside coach.  He tries to help her navigate the long and extensive one-year grooming period she has to endure in order to make it to the WWE, as she makes one misstep after another.  Only 18, she’s unable to deal with the other women trying out, finds that she’s not in good enough shape to compete with them and questions her own identity, embarking on a misguided attempt to change her persona.

Pugh is very appealing here, vulnerable, strong and determined, giving us an appealing working-class heroine we pull for every step of the way.  She has a movie-star charisma about her that captivates, and coupled with her talent. should ensure her a long career.  As Paige’s brother, Zak, Jack Lawdon effectively elicits our sympathy as the bitter left-behind brother, while Nick Frost and Lena Headey are properly eccentric as the elder Knights.

Fighting with Your Family is a movie you end up wanting to like more than you should.  It’s a bit of a mystery – it has a strong cast, an interesting story and is professionally done.  Yet, there’s a spark missing here.  Along the way, a sense of purpose seems to have been lost in the transition from script to screen, as Paige and the Knights’ story has gone from unique to that of a typical Hollywood product.  The end result comes off like many WWE events, a staged, predictable production, loudly executed yet devoid of sincerity  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at koplinski@usd116.org.

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