First Hit: Mildly entertaining and while it was a bit too predictable at times, there were effective moments of inspiration.
Back when TV wrestling got its real start as (Golden Age) the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) in the early 1950s there were outsized characters like “Gorgeous George.” The narcissistic persona he embraced both elevated the sport’s popularity, but it also created an over-exposure by the late 1950’s early 1960’s.
But as the NWA developed to become the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) and shortened to WWF, its outsized characters regained its audience both in person and on television. Having to switch to WWE (Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment) because WWF was used by the World Wildlife Fund in 2001, WWE was global, and its ego and brawn based characters were known worldwide. “Hulk Hogan,” “Triple H,” “Stone Cold Steve Austin,” “Ric Flair,” and “The Rock” (Dwayne Johnson) who makes a couple of appearances in this film moved the WWE into the financial and popularity stratosphere.
This movie is based on the true story of Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Florence Pugh), who had her mind set on becoming a WWE wrestler. Coming from Norwich, England her chances were minimal. How she became a WWE wrestler is this film’s story.
She got started in this business because her father, Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis (Nick Frost), and mother Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis (Lena Headley) started a wrestling business to put food on the table. It was either this or crime. Patrick was a thief, and robbing banks was his previous line of work and had already spent time in prison for this. However, he loved wrestling, and it was the life he took on to keep from robbing banks. Although “Paige’s” oldest brother was in jail, her next older brother Zak “Zodiac” Bevis (Jack Lowden) was also a wrestler and part of the family business.
Together the family had a company called WaW that taught younger people to wrestle in addition to putting on small matches throughout England. With pestering calls to WWE to help promote their business and Zak and Saraya, they finally get a call back from the WWE. Their representative for talent, Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), contacts the family and ask that “Paige” and “Zodiac” come to tryouts in London at the O2 arena when WWE shows up to do a show there.
Only Paige gets chosen to continue the training, and the film follows her in this process. Immediately we see her struggle against other women who happen to be beautiful, sexy and physically healthy and capable. This was the one part of the film’s story I thought the filmmakers could have done more with. Each of the other girls was former models and cheerleaders, and they also needed to work and make money, and they were putting it all out there as well as “Paige.”
Of course, Zak is jealous that his sister got chosen while he didn’t, and therefore the film follows the jealousy track Zak has towards her sister’s success. But when “Paige” wants to quit, we find out how the family stands behind her, and “Paige” finds her strength.
This is a feel-good story of success and perseverance while also finding your place in the world.
The wrestling scenes were reasonably well done, and when “Paige” goes in the ring for the Diva championship, her world and dreams come together.
Pugh was excellent as “Paige.” I like her ability to show vulnerability as well as strength as she made this journey. Lowden was terrific as well. His jealousy was ideally placed as he wanted to be the star of the family but realized he was the star of what he gave to others. Frost and Headley were terrific as the parents of the wrestling family. Vaughn was fantastic as the talent manager and finder. His story about why Zak would fail as a WWE wrestler was wonderfully told. Johnson as himself (The Rock) was appropriately perfect. His personality leaps off the screen. Stephen Merchant wrote and directed this story with his eye on the ball. He kept it moving and did a great job of getting wonderful performances from the actors.
Overall: This isn’t a great film, but the heart shows up well on the screen.