All of you that got into fights with your siblings, raise your hands. Now imagine making that fighting your family business! Based on the true story (with a healthy heaping of Hollywood spin) of Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Knight) who, at 21-years-old, became the youngest pro-wrestler ever to win the WWE Diva Title.
In Norwich, England we find the Bevis family (who go by the professional name “Knight” in the wrestling ring): father Patrick (Nick Frost), a hulking mass with a mohawk, magenta-colored hair mother Julia (Lea Headey), buffed “Zodiak” Zak (Jack Lowden), who teaches at-risk kids wrestling after school, and his tough-as-nails kid-sister Saraya (Florence Pugh). All of them wrestle for crowd pleasing weekly exhibitions and shows and, even though it’s all “staged & scripted”, they still can get hurt. Naturally, their BIG dream is to be in the WWE with The Rock, Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Sheamus, and all the others.
Luckily, Zak and Saraya’s big break comes when a NXT coach/scout comes to London for try-outs to see who’ll go on to Florida for training. Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) is the no-nonsense, hard-truth telling coach that decides that only Saraya is good enough to go to the USA. This leaves her brother Zak in a deep blue funk as his dreams are smashed like a kick to the groin. But at the Florida training camp, Saraya (who now goes by her new stage name, Paige) realizes that this isn’t going to be as easy as she thought. Training is ridiculously tough and hard as any Marine boot camp, with her fellow diva trainees being real bitches towards her.
Try as she may, she just can’t cut the rigorous training and almost leaves, but after a pep-talk from her family and realizing her goals, she pulls a Rocky and goes back for your A-typical montage to prove herself as not only an athlete, but a team-player, too. But will all this hard-work and dedication pay off as she goes into the ring in front of a cheering crowd who are screaming for entertainment? Will she dazzle the audience or will she choke? And will Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson show up for his cameos as himself and even diss Vin Diesel?
Yes, this is all based on a true story, although you KNOW there was some embellishment (which is all too evident if you watch the YouTube video of Paige’s first WWE match). Written and directed by British comedian Stephen Merchant (who has a small cameo in the film), it’s easy to see how he wrote this movie, since the whole story is pretty much laid out before him in the 2012 documentary, The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family.
But that doesn’t mean it’s schmaltzy or underwritten; far from that, it’s a slice of Americana… er, Britishcana that is as real and poignant as The Commitments or My Left Foot. Merchant throws in dollops of humor to be sure (Frost gets the best lines, naturally), but this movie isn’t a full-blown comedy as the trailers lead you to believe.
This is Merchant’s debut as a film director (although he’s done tons of BBC-TV work), and he’s right at home here with the camera. Nothing special, but straight shots for maximum impact and comedy when needed. Then you have a great cast starting with Pugh who looks just like Paige IRL, and sells her role with a passion and fierceness to it.
Also digging into his role is Lowden, giving a strong, layered performance. Vince Vaughn, usually doing his comedic rat-a-tat riffing, is excellent in this dramatic turn and, of course, you have the big-guy himself, Nick Frost, who can make you laugh with just a simple line reading. I’ll say this, in many cases, the British know how to cast their films better than us. For fun, check out the real WWE Paige online. She’s both hot and dangerous!
The One And Only (1978)
“All the world’s a stage and its people merely players”. Truer words were never spoken by the immortal Bard or by the hero of this story, an incredibly vain, egotistical, self-serving, maniacal, and self-congratulatory would-be actor who winds up being a professional wrestler. Yeah, that’s sounds about right!
Henry Winkler, during a hiatus from playing The Fonz on his hit TV show, Happy Days, plays college student Andy Schmidt who, loved by all his fellow classmates as the class comedian, is hated by his teachers for always wanting to be the center of attention, whether it’s on stage or the football field. The only one who sees through his deep insecurities and wild eccentricities is prim and proper Mary Crawford (Kim Darby). How she puts up with this guy always being “on” is beyond me, but that’s love I guess? Anyway, these two get married, much to the chagrin of Mary’s straight-laced parents (William Daniels & Polly Holliday).
Andy, with grandiose ideas and NYC bright lights in his narcissistic mind, moves into a dingy flat with Mary, dreaming of being on Broadway in no time. But while Mary is struggling in a dismal temp job, Andy is bombing his stage auditions by going off-book and daring to change the script! Meanwhile, he meets up with a fellow actor on the skids, diminutive Milton Miller (Herve Villechaize) and strikes up a friendship. Thanks to Milton, they land a sorta-acting job… playing wrestlers at a two-bit wrestling match, which comes in handy since Mary gets pregnant.
Naturally Andy, who can never settle for normal, decides to ignore his manager’s advice and invents a wild character for the ring, getting the others to play along. His over-the-top Svengali-like wrestler character brings the house down and BOOM! He’s an instant hit! Pretty soon, Andy invents other crazy characters which are equally just as nutty and crowd pleasing, but Mary tries to hide this fact from his parents-in-laws until it’s too late. Torn between her parents and what Andy loves to do, Mary is faced with a martial decision of either divorcing Andy or sticking with the man she loves.
Steve Gordon (Arthur) wrote the screenplay and, although it’s formulaic and hits all the ‘struggling actor in NYC’ tropes, it does have two things going for it: Henry Winkler and legendary director/actor/comedian Carl Reiner. Winkler, still hot from his TV series, shows off more of his talent as a totally self-absorbed guy who the word “selfie” was invented for. It does have some pretty funny moments, especially all the wrestling bouts where Winkler cuts loose as some of the most flamboyant and hilarious costumed characters ever! It didn’t fare so well at the box office, probably due to Winkler’s movie character; a complete opposite of the lovable Fonz.