(2019) Sports Biography (MGM/United Artists) Florence Pugh, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Kimberly Matula, Stephen Merchant, Chloe Csengery, Aqueela Zoll, Paul Wight, Eli Jane, Julia Davis, Stephen Farrelly, Hannah Rae, Theia Trinidad, Helena Holmes, Josh Myers, Thomas Whilley, Tori Ross, John Cena, Ellie Gonsalves. Directed by Stephen Merchant
When I first saw the trailers for this film, I thought it looked like a glorified recruitment video for the WWE – and it is. What I didn’t expect was that the movie would be as funny as it was and have the heart that it did. Then, I noticed that it was directed by Stephen Merchant, one of the co-creators of the original British The Office.
Based on the true story of the WWE wrestler Paige (real name: Saraya-Jade Bevis), it shows her formative years as a young wrestler (Pugh) in the family’s low-rent British wrestling promotion based in their home town of Norwich, the Mustard capital of England (we critics are required to know such things). She and her brother Zak (Lowden) have dreams of making it in the big leagues – World Wrestling Entertainment – and are encouraged by their ex-con turned grappler dad (Frost) and recovering ex-junkie mum (Headey).
When a WWE Scout (Vaughn) offers the two of them a try-out, it seems like their dreams will come true, but that’s quickly dashed when they offer a spot to Saraya – but not Zak. She’s loathe to go by herself but is eventually convinced to and she heads out to Orlando to the WWE training center there. Unsure whether she is living out her dream or her family’s, she struggles under the pressure but this is a movie after all, so you just know it’s going to end well.
Even armed with that foreknowledge, it’s surprising how much heart the movie has and that’s a tribute to the cast. Even Dwayne Johnson, the executive producer for the movie who recruited Merchant (who co-starred with him in The Tooth Fairy) to write and direct the film after seeing a documentary on Paige/Saraya in his hotel room while working in the UK, gets a little bit inspirational playing the Rock as an extension of himself. And, yes, the movie does seem to insinuate that if you work hard enough and have the “it” factor, you can come out of nowhere and become a WWE champion based on talent alone – which isn’t how it really works in anything, let alone professional wrestling – you still find yourself getting hit in all the feels. Yeah, it ignores the scripted nature of sports entertainment but nonetheless it will leave you with the warm fuzzies when it’s all over.
REASONS TO SEE: Pugh does a terrific job. Shows unexpected humor and heart.
REASONS TO AVOID: Probably won’t appeal to non-wrestling fans.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some crude language including sexual references, violence, and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Paige was forced to retire from the ring in 2018 due to a neck injury.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews, Metacritic: 68/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Peanut Butter Falcon
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Root of the Problem