The Gabby Douglas Story is Gold! A Review of the Lifetime Original Movie!
If you haven’t heard about the recent lifetime movie that tells the true story of America’s Olympian sweetheart Gabby Douglas — the gymnastics phenom who rose from obscurity to make history during the 2012 London games — then you can read our introduction to the movie here. You can also read our interview with Sydney Mikayla, the talented 11-year-old actress who played the young Gabby Douglas during the earliest stages of Gabby’s gymnastics career.
The movie is essentially a prequel to what we all witnessed during the 2012 London Olympics; it tells the true story of how Gabby, her single mother, and her siblings faced serious challenges — everything from homelessness and poverty to medical problems and homesickness — as Gabby discovered her passion for gymnastics, moved thousands of miles away from her family to train, and began pursuing her dream of making the Olympic team. As Gabby’s sister said in the documentary that followed the film: “We went from living in a van to living in a beautiful home in Los Angeles” [after Gabby won the gold medals and was able to support her family].
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
As a movie critic, I don’t usually watch made-for-TV movies. I typically only review theatrical releases. However, this Lifetime Original is just as entertaining as a high-budget Hollywood movie that you would pay $10 to see on a Friday night. It has the three crucial ingredients that every successful movie needs: a compelling story idea, a powerful and effective execution of that idea (the screenplay, the directing, the acting, etc), and an accurate portrayal of the human experience — i.e. how people react in real-life situations. Another term for this last one is emotional plausibility. It is the element that gives the film access to the heart strings of the audience. It makes people go, “Oh wow, I really relate to what that character is going through. I know what that emotion feels like.” As long as you have these three ingredients, it does not matter what your special effects budget is or whether your movie is in 3-D, 2-D, 1-D or even in color. Heck, you don’t even need a camera or a screen. (Once — long ago — people would act out stories on a thing called a “stage,” and the audience would sit in the same room as it happened, and, according to archeologists, they called this art of antiquity “theatre.” Of course, theatre is still a very popular form of art today, but in our digital society — aka the Screen Age — I wonder how many people have experienced the thrill of a stage production.)
These three essential ingredients are why The Gabby Douglas Story — even though it’s not some expensive Hollywood theatrical release — is just as entertaining as many of the same movies I’ve seen in the theaters. It has a powerful (true) story idea from a moment that captivated the entire world, the idea is executed with commendable skill, and it highlights moments that we can all relate to even though we’re not amazing gymnasts like Gabby.
I’d also like to say: every actor on-screen did an excellent job. It was a joy to see Regina King — who is a recurring character in my favorite TV show (Big Bang Theory) — perform in an intimate drama that required a wide range of emotions. Also, the girls who played Gabby were superb. According to Sydney Mikayla, they had to train in gymnastics before shooting. I can’t imagine the pressure they were feeling — having to play one of the greatest gymnasts in Olympic history — without having previous experience in gymnastics before their training for the movie began. Yet both Sydney Mikayla (the Gabby Douglas in the first act of the movie) and Imani Hakim (the older Gabby Douglas in the latter acts) were entirely believable as Gabby. They portrayed her with great poise. The two girls also had infectious, joyful smiles, which would obviously be a necessity for any actor portraying Gabby Douglas who has — as the Olympic announcers called it — a “million-dollar smile.”
The actors who played Gabby’s siblings were able to capture that innate warmth and loving we’re-here-for-you-no-matter-what spirit that allowed Gabby’s family to remain strong during the most difficult trials. Other stand-outs were S. Epatha Merkerson as the nurturing grandmother who helped Gabby’s mother during the lowest points and, my personal favorite among the supporting actors, Brian Tee who played Liang Chow with a very refined, laser-focus intensity. He was absolutely believable as an Olympic coach. I am looking forward to seeing him in more roles — hopefully on the big screen.
And, of course, there was Gabby Douglas playing herself. I liked how the filmmakers skillfully spliced real footage from the 2012 Olympics in with the scenes they shot. It was a joy to see those legendary Olympic moments on the TV screen again. It gave me a sense of nostalgia for the very memorable London Summer Olympic games.
The absolute best part of the movie, however — at least for me — was the bold depiction of the Douglas family’s faith. The movie showed the family praying together, and they included the ending of the prayer “in Jesus’ Name.” Many movies will avoid mentioning Jesus at all costs unless it’s used as a swear word. Not this one. And, besides all of the Christ-like sacrifices that Gabby’s family makes to help her chase her dream, the film is stock full of Scripture such as when a character reminds another character that “we walk by faith, not by sight.”
You really can’t go wrong with this movie. It’s perfect for the whole family.
Although the initial broadcasts of this movie have passed, you can check in with Lifetime’s official page to see if it will be making the movie available through other means in the future.