Fair warning: if reach-for-the-stars platitudes drive you nuts, The Gabby Douglas Story is not the film for you. Lifetime’s biopic about the spunky 2012 Olympic all-around gymnastics champ, which premieres Saturday night at 8/7CT, is virtually paved with them.
But if you’re a fan of Douglas, or you can’t wait for the Sochi games for a heartwarming story of Olympic perseverance — and especially if you long for something genuinely uplifting on your TV — The Gabby Douglas Story is a gold-medal winner.
Douglas and her mother Natalie Hawkins executive produced the film, which stars Sydney Mikayla and Imani Hakim as the adolescent and teenage Douglas respectively, plus Southland‘s Regina King as the steadfast Hawkins, and Brian Tee (The Wolverine, Grimm) as Liang Chow, the Iowa-based coach who trained Shawn Johnson to Olympic victory before taking on Douglas.
But the beating heart of The Gabby Douglas Story is how Douglas, Hawkins and Douglas’ three close-knit siblings banded together to overcome financial and familial hardships so that Gabby — the baby of the clan, who nearly died of a rare blood disorder as an infant — could achieve her dreams.
Critics of the film have lamented the fact that The Gabby Douglas Story does not give greater weight to race issues Douglas faced from her first days in a Virginia Beach gymnastics class to NBC’s sometimes ham-handed coverage of her time in London. But I have a tough time faulting Douglas — who has never shied away from discussing adversity in interviews and TV appearances — for honoring the good stuff, the stuff that has remained and flourished long after the fuss about her hairdo and a moronic ad for a failed sitcom faded away.
Stuff like all that hard work and sacrifice. Stuff like her strong family bond, and their collective unwillingness to become victims of hard-knock circumstance. Kind people who supported Gabby and her dream along the way (although scenes of her and the daughters of her beaming Iowa host family wearing matching candy-cane-print flannel nighties exceeded even my tolerance for sap). And ultimately, her triumph as the first gymnast in U.S. history to win gold in the team and all-around divisions, and the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champ.
As the film makes plain, accentuating the positive and not looking in the rearview — especially at people looking to run you off the road — is the Douglas-Hawkins family way. And, given that this is not a documentary but a memoir of sorts, that’s A-OK by me.
Fans looking for glimpses of Douglas herself will find them in archival competition footage (in which Shawn Johnson also appears) and the exhilarating montage of Douglas’ actual Olympic performances — and her jubilant family in the stands — that closes the film. Douglas, who plans to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, also served as Hakim’s stunt double throughout.
The Gabby Douglas Story premieres Saturday, Feb. 1 at 8/7CT on Lifetime.