It may seem a little premature to tell Gabby Douglas’ story (she is, after all, just a teenager), but the Olympics are upon us and everyone loves cheering a winner.
In “The Gabby Douglas Story,” we don’t get a lot of technical detail, just a bunch of “Karate Kid” encouragement.
The film, in fact, is so close to that underdog classic, you half expect Douglas’ coach, Liang Chow, to trick her with non-gymnastics-related lessons. Director Gregg Champion holds back but there’s always a little Myagi stirring.
Narrated by the real Douglas (but featuring two actresses in the title role), the film chronicles her sort-of-rough childhood and natural affinity for gymnastics. She’s bothered by a negative coach (“I didn't think you could pull that off,” he says), inspired by the guy who made Shawn Johnson an Olympic gold medalist.
So, in one of those “only in the movies” real-life situations, Douglas asks her mom to send her to Chow’s school in Des Moines, Iowa. It means separation, but she’s determined. Through a quirk of fate (and the generosity of an Iowa family), they figure out how to make it work. Sure enough, Chow and Douglas click and it’s just a matter of marking off a calendar before she gets to an important meet and impresses.
The Olympic Games are covered, too, but the footage is of the real Douglas, leaping her way to two gold medals.
Imani Hakim plays Douglas during the “crucial” years and she does a great job. If she didn’t do the gymnastics, she certainly makes the transitions look flawless. Brian Tee is fine, too, as Chow – a calming influence who knows just what to say to get results.
Because there’s no big tragedy in her story Champion often has to rely on smaller obstacles. Douglas battles with her mom (Regina King, who’s always good) at one point, saying she wants to quit the sport. When reminded how much her family sacrificed to get her there, the problem disappears and it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to glory.
Again, “The Gabby Douglas Story” is a film that’s a little short on story. Considering she’s probably not done competing, this might have been a better bet 10 years from now.
It doesn’t stir that many emotions. It doesn’t provide stunning insight into her character. It doesn’t even talk about setbacks (or her relationship with other Olympic gymnasts).
Instead, “The Gabby Douglas Story” is a tribute to the power of positive thinking. Ten-year-old girls may get something from it. But everyone else might wonder, “Why?” and “Why now?”
“The Gabby Douglas Story” airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on Lifetime.