Sundance film ‘Fighting with My Family’ captures American dream
When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson couldn’t go to sleep one night while filming “Fast & Furious 6” in London in 2012, he stumbled across a documentary that chronicled a British family obsessed with wrestling and the unlikely rise of a young, female professional wrestler.
The film resonated with Johnson, who similarly came from a wrestling family, and he felt that it would speak to other audiences if it were made into a narrative movie. Several years later, his idea came to fruition with the film “Fighting with My Family.”
The Sundance feature tells the story of how a British family that wrestles in front of small crowds on the weekends gave rise to a WWE star known as Paige. The film stars Florence Pugh, Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and Johnson, who plays himself. Screenwriter Steven Marchant of “The Office” directed the film, working with several producers, including Kevin Misher and Johnson.
“It’s a real independent-minded, spirited movie that started with one person’s passionate response to a British family’s story,” Misher said. “We knew it was a lot about the American dream and the dreams of families everywhere for their children to succeed in life. They are a very loving and idiosyncratic family. A family like everyone else’s.”
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The film follows Pugh’s character Saraya Knight and her family’s passion for wrestling. It is Knight’s parents’ dream for one of their children — Saraya, her brother, Zack, or both — to make it in America in their chosen field, which happens to be wrestling, Misher said. The hook, he added, is that only Saraya makes it.
“It is all about what happens to this marvelous, wonderful and unusual family when only one child gets to pursue their dreams,” he said. “And the one who does, you wouldn’t expect.”
The movie simultaneously covers the dynamics of the family’s relationships with one another, as well as female empowerment, Misher said.
“She (Saraya) changes the system and finds her own voice,” he said.
It’s not a traditional sports movie, Misher said. He described it as a comedy because of Marchant’s writing. But, he said it is as much about wrestling as “Billy Elliot” was about ballet or “The Full Monty” was about stripping.
“Dwayne felt that anyone could relate to it,” he said. “Our goal was to build the movie in a way that had this sort of authentic spirit, but can also speak to a wide berth of an audience. What is wonderful is that people who watch this movie will fall in love with this story whether or not they care passionately about wrestling.
“Steven (Marchant), being a British writer, director, filmmaker and entertainer, he saw in the documentary an opportunity to tell a story that he related to very personally,” he added. “And it spoke to Dwayne personally. It is about a family that loved this thing and he grew up in a family that did that as well.”
Misher hopes the audience will stand up and cheer for the lead characters at certain points, while also laughing and crying tears of joy.
Misher was a studio executive at Universal Studios until 2001 and worked on several films, including “The Fast and Furious” and the “Bourne” and “The Mummy” franchises. But, “Fighting with My Family” is the producer’s first film to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
“It’s special because Sundance is the apex of the film festival circuit, particularly if you want to convey that ‘can-do spirit,’” he said. “That’s why Sundance is very special. I am an old studio guy. Dwayne is one of the biggest motion picture stars in the world, but with much more humble origins and that befit Sundance. That was the goal of us premiering at Sundance.”
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