The true story of Saraya-Jade Bevis aka Paige, the WWE superstar.
I’ve never watched wrestling. It’s not that I have anything against the sport or the people that like it; honestly, I don’t watch any sports. As my interest in sports is night nonexistent, sports films have always been a tough sell for me. Sure, I enjoy a few of the classics, like “Remember the Titans” and “Miracle”, and I’ve enjoyed a fair amount of documentaries about athletes or athletic feats (I really liked the “Andre the Giant” documentary that HBO put out last year), but I’m never going to go out of my way to watch a sports film unless it gets wide critical acclaim, which, this one did (it’s currently sitting at a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes). Add to the great reviews the fact that this film came highly recommended from someone I work with, and I decided I could check it out. I figured, I like Stephen Merchant (“Logan”), Nick Frost (“Tomb Raider”), Lena Headly (“Dredd”), Vince Vaughn (“Dragged Across Concrete”) and Dwayne Johnson (“Rampage”); even if I don’t care too much for the subject matter, this could be funny.
As I watched the film, I found I enjoyed it, and I expected to give it a 3/5 star rating, but then when I sat down and began thinking about this film, it hit me how great some of the themes were, how empowering this movie is for young women who want to chase dreams that might not be considered normal, and honestly how unique the story was (even though it does follow a sports movie formula).
“Don’t worry about being the next me. Be the first you.”
Ever since they were children Saraya (Florence Pugh, “Lady Macbeth”) and Zak Knight (Jack Lowden, “Mary Queen of Scots”) have trained as backyard wrestlers under the watchful eyes of their parents Ricky and Julia, in hopes that one day they can join the WWE. When their chance finally comes, the two try out and Saraya makes the cut, while Zak does not. As Saraya struggles to chase her dreams, Zak is forced to come to terms with the fact that while he won’t ever be a WWE Champion.
So I think the most important part about this movie is the overall themes, and while the theme of ‘chase your dream no matter what’ is extremely well worn, but in sports movies, it doesn’t feel quite as cliché. I say that because the goal of every sports game/match/what-have-you is to win, right? So if the overall goal (to win) is the same, you can imagine that 90% of the themes in sports movies are going to be similar. That being said, this is about a young woman chasing her dreams to be a wrestler; that’s not a story I’ve seen on screen before. How many basketball/football/baseball movies have I seen? I couldn’t tell you, and like I already mentioned, I don’t go out of my way to watch sports movies. This is a unique story, and it’s true. At the same time, this film addresses themes not usually talked about in sports movies: what happens when you’re told you aren’t enough?
The fact that we see things from the perspective of a person that trained their whole life and made it big as well as from the perspective of a person that trained just as hard and doesn’t make it is great. I think the way that this film handles Zak’s disappointment is pretty poignant, and his sister’s reaction to his disappointment adds another level of drama to the film.
Saraya’s character is also rather likeable. She comes from a household that I wouldn’t say is dysfunctional so much as it functions on a different kind of level, on a different kind of playing field. Ricky and Julia both led hard lives; both abused drugs, both were lower income, and at least one of them had a criminal record. After they turned to wrestling, they left the life of crime behind, and used wrestling as an outlet. They train their children from a young age to fight, but they teach them how to do it safely; their fighting is a way for them to bond.
Which brings me to another reason I liked this film. While I can’t say that this film has inspired me to watch wrestling, I can say that it has helped me have more of an appreciation for the sport and those that love it. WWE seems to be a lifestyle as much as it is an event for these people, and that kind of passion inspires me. The amount of love that the people who made this film have for wrestling and the WWE just bleeds from this movie, and it’s hard not to appreciate that level of commitment.
I honestly didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did. It’s an incredibly competent entry from Stephen Merchant, and I’d like to see more from him in the future. Overall a solid entry into the sports movie genre, and that’s coming from a guy who couldn’t care less about sports!
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