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MCSMaria's Gymnastics Presents: A Review of the Gabby Douglas Story

The long awaited Gabby Douglas has aired.

There was laughter, there was tears and most importantly, triumph! Knowing this is a made for TV movie, I have to admit, my expectations were very low. Did this meet or exceed my expectations?

 Watching it is like watching Titanic, you know the Titanic is going to hit that iceberg, but you watch it anyways.

We know how the Gabby's Olympic story ends, but we watch anyways...

The movie starts out with Gabby's birth. Her TV mom, Regina King is sweating up a storm in the delivery room and Imani Hakim, TV Gabby tells the audience that her mom, Natalie, nearly died bringing her into this world. Hence, the theme of the movie, "sacrifice".  I must say, Regina is a fantastic actress (being Oscar nominated and all). She is fierce in playing Natalie, she gives this woman a story and a reason for the audience to know about her.

Then the story cuts with Gabby suffering from some blood disorder when she's a small baby. Really now Lifetime writers, are they trying to come up with an excuse for Gabby being so short? Sure, ok, whatever, moving on... Apparently the Lifetime writers have decided to have the Douglas family live in a van for the first however long part of this movie. A van. I don't know if this is true or not. Gabby and her mom were executive producers on this movie, so they had to have some creative control, but really, a van? It sounds like a Saturday Night Live joke.

Gabby's dad, Timothy Douglas has a very small role in this movie. He's there at the birth scene and then about 10 minutes in, he disappears, never to be heard from again in the Lifetime movie universe. Since this is a movie about struggle and sacrifice and all, Natalie is suffering financially and moves in with her mother until she finds a job and then voice-over Gabby tells us that they were "finally" able to rent a house of their own. Gabby, Natalie and her three brothers and sisters.

Now the boring origin parts are out of the way and they've established much struggle and early sacrifice, it's time for the Lifetime writers to introduce gymnastics. Like Al Trautwig, Tim Daggett and NBC have told us again and again, Gabby's sister, Arielle convinced Natalie to put Gabby in gymnastics saying she looked like a gymnast. That does happen in this movie, after Natalie/Regina is frustrated with having Gabby flip on and off couches and other pieces of furniture and puts her in gymnastics after movie Arielle says her mom totally needs to put her in gymnastics. Arielle has apparently taught movie Gabby how to do all these tricks. (Arielle has learned them from *gasp* cheerleading).

Next, Natalie takes Gabby into a gym called "Equilibrium Gymnastics." Similar to Excalibur where Gabby trained at before coming to Chow's. Anyone see where this is going? Natalie and Gabby walk into the gym. After staring and gawking for about 2 hours, movie Gabby starts running around and doing back handsprings, cartwheels and everything. Natalie seems to be a little embarrassed. A coach walks up to Natalie and starts a conversation and then another coach comes over. Natalie tells them she's wanting to sign Gabby up for the beginners class. The coaches convince her to put her in a more advanced class, telling her they could get back into "TOPS in 6 months, and elite in 5 years." Really Lifetime? this is so cheesy and ridiculous. Not only do I not think a coach would tell a parent that when their kid hasn't actually paid for anything or competed, they'd be setting a kid up with super high expectations.

It really continues on like this for a big chunk of the movie. We learn that the coach is kind of a dick and doesn't teach Gabby the skills correctly. Not only is the coach a dick, the other kids are dicks too. There is a scene with young Gabby in a group of girls. They're at the uneven bars and they're learning kips, one of two actual gymnastics skills the writers bothered to learn the names of. While the coach prattles on about how it's "the most important skill" and the girls HAVE to learn it properly, the other kids are mean to little Gabby. And by other kids, I mean this random blond girl that has a total of two lines in this entire movie.  When the coach is talking about the only gymnastics skill he knows, the bitchy blonde turns to Gabby and says "unless you're too short". Voice over Gabby tells us that Mama Hawkins told baby Gabby to tell her when other kids were mean to her, but voice-over Gabby says she didn't; she focussed on her gymnastics. Anyways, bitchy blonde goes up to the uneven bars and tries to do a kip, but one arm flails over the bar. Baby Gabby get's up and can do a kip just fine. Take that, blondie.

 We also learn that it costs a lot of money for Gabby's gymnastics career. Natalie catches  the kids with mysterious amounts of extra money in their jeans.  When she confronts the family, she learns that her son Jon has been charging kids at school to see Gabby do gymnastics tricks. (Going pro at an early age, ha). We learn later that Gabby is worried about the financial strain that it would cause her mom to go to training camp. To help ease the burden, the other kids decide to give up their sports to help their baby sister achieve her dreams. Gabby feels a little guilty at first, but then her siblings talk her out of her guilt saying that she's got real talent and she needs to follow through with her dream.

If the first theme of this movie is "sacrifice" then the next theme is "believing in yourself and your dreams." Gabby is at the 2008 Visa Championships and she's competing for the first time on podium. At least it's actually the podium and not the horrible Make It Or Break It concrete floor. She's on the uneven bars, which, it's not the greatest routine, or at least the thirty seconds we see of it. Later, Gabby and Natalie are going into their hotel room and Gabby has a puss on because she didn't do as well as she wanted. Natalie tells her to buck up, and Gabby cheers up. We know now that Gabby is competitive and will not stop until she's achieved her goal.

While at the 2008 Visa Championships, Gabby and her mom watch the senior girls, particularly Shawn Johnson. They show a clip of Shawn from 2008, with commentators (not Tim, Al or Elfie) telling us that she's doing one of the hardest vaults in the competition, the Amanar. (This was the time before the Amanar was the most ubiquitous vault in history). Gabby is inspired by Shawn and she see's Shawn's coach, Liang Chow, played by Brian Tee. I have to admit, they casted this part very well. While the real Chow is so much more adorable, Brian does a great job at capturing  Chow's enthusiasm for his "students" (thank you, Gymnastike), and his passion for gymnastics. Later, when watching the Olympic Trials Gabby see's Shawn again and is totally inspired. We see fake Shawn going over to hung movie Chow. Gabby tells her mother that she is going to the Olympics and Chow WILL be her coach.
We Heart Real Chow!

There is a bump in the road. It's established that movie Natalie has been suffering from migraines and has to take medication. It's around this time that movie Natalie switches her medication and then faints in line at the bank. The kids' grandma tells them now, money will be tight until Natalie gets disability.  Gabby feels guilty and one day, Natalie catches her sitting at home when she should be at practice. Natalie asks her why she's home and not at practice, Gabby says they can't afford it. Natalie says "nonsense!" We get a visual of 12 year old Gabby running with her new German Shepherd puppy and then we transition to Imani Hakim as 14-year-old Gabby running with her grown German Shepherd dog.

Again, we have a dick coach and bitchy blond girl. Dick coach doesn't want to teach Gabby the Amanar, no matter how much she begs him. (That's the only other gymnastics skill that the writers bothered to learn) He keeps saying she's not ready.  She throws a hissy fit and yells at him for not believing in her. Bitchy Blond Girl is nearby and she makes some snippy remarks about the Olympics and Gabby and blah, blah, blah...  Later, it's 2010 Visa's and as established, Gabby's coach is a dick. She lands a full in dismount off bars and the dick coach says "Nice job, I didn't think you'd pull that off." Say what?  Well, Gabby is fully aware that her coach is a dick and now she's even more determined to train with Chow. She learns that Chow is coming to her gym to do a clinic and she's so excited, she can hardly contain herself.

So Chow shows up to the gym and all the girls are in line and he's going to introduce himself to them.  Gabby is in line and when Chow approaches her, she's tongue tied. He's about to be introduced to the bitchy blonde when she pipes up and tells him her name. She tells him she wants to learn everything. Since the only skill the writers know is the Amanar, Gabby is going to learn that skill.  Of course, the writers' know enough to know that the skill was named for Simona Amanar. Brilliant. Gabby wants to learn it, and par for the course, she does and Chow taught her.

This is the halfway point of the movie, so now our main character has to have some life altering event. This life-altering event is Chow. Gabby really, really, really wants to train with him.  There is begging and pleading. Mom says no, it's too far. Gabby says "you don't support me!" and back and forth and back and forth. Ugh, whatever.  Natalie drives Chow to the airport and they talk about his life in China and how he was picked from the classroom to train and only seeing his family four times a year. Oh what brilliant foreshadowing, Lifetime writers, looks like you learned something in English class after all!

Gabby is still hell bent on going to Iowa and she yells at her mom again. But, there is a stroke of fortune, or God working in mysterious ways according to voice over Gabby. Enter TV Travis and Missy Parton. But they're not Travis and Missy, they're Sally and Tim Lonsdale. The guy they got to play TV Travis looks like a creepy serial killer.  Oh God... make it stop. They tell Chow that they'd be happy to host someone at their house since their girls already train at Chow's.  TV Partons have just randomly decided this, just because apparently they want to run a boarding house for Olympic hopefuls.

Finally Gabby's mom relents and allows her to go train with Chow and oh guess what, they already have a place for her to stay! How convenient, Lifetime writers.  They go to Iowa and get Gabster settled. Gabby is looking out the window while driving to the TV Partons and she is looking at, what else, cornfields, and she says "there's nothing out here!" Really? I could have told you that. They get to the Parton's house, get introduced to the kids and they have dinner.  Gabby, Natalie and the TV Parton's sit down for dinner. They pray and the girls, all blonder than the next, open their eyes and sneak peaks at Gabby. Later, when saying good bye, Gabby tells her mother "There's no black people in Iowa!"

Cue training montages. We're introduced to Mrs. Chow and Gabby tells the Chows she wants to go to the Olympics, he tells her everyone at his gym wants to but, he will do his best to help her get there. He plots her timeline on a calendar. 2011 Visas and of course Trials. Who cares about anything else, like ya know, Worlds or Visas or the American Cup. There is a training montage and Gabby randomly injures her hamstring in the middle of this. Then it's day one of 2011 Visas, of course, they focus only on Gabby falling off beam twice. She's mad and she sits in the locker room and cries. She's mad at herself and is tired and frustrated. Cue the "I want to quit extended sequence".

She tells her mom she wants to quit, (presumably while still at Visas) her mom is mad at her and then she tells Chow. Chow doesn't let this worry him, he know's she's just homesick and tells Natalie she will come around. He also tells Natalie that Gabby has been selected for the American Cup as an alternate.

Later, Gabby is on the phone with her brother and he's telling her she can't quit but she says "I'm Homesick!" He tells her to open this package he sent her that says, "don't open." Gabby opens it and it's a copy of the "vision board" they made together as a family. It's enough inspiration for her to keep going. Whew, the Lifetime writer's are relieved now that they have a mechanism to get TV Gabby back on track. Now it's time for the American Cup. They show the Amanar and show Gabby hitting beam, where she fell at Visas. Yay, Gabby is the winner, even though she's only an alternate.

Next, it's the US Olympic Trials.  Gabby hits, she makes the team. Then there is stock media footage of Gabby on the medal podium by herself and with the rest of the Fierce Five. Viktoria Komova's foot makes a brief cameo in the movie as well. So yeah, yay for Vika's foot, but yay Gabby.

The end.

The final word: while Gabby's story is certainly inspirational and she'll likely be an NBC fluff piece for years to come. This whole movie was certainly structured like a two hour long NBC fluff piece. It hits every beat when it's supposed to, it doesn't really get too too gritty.  Regina King is fantastic as Natalie and she really brings a lot of depth and dimension to Natalie and makes her person who is independent of just being "Gabby's mom."  The gymnastics, well, was stock, the writers only bothered to learn the name of two skills, which is annoying, but I'm pretty sure the key demographic for this movie is not hardcore gym fans. Overall, this is better than Make It Or Break It, but it's not exactly an Oscar caliber movie. But as I said before, I had very low expectations for this movie going into it.

My rating: I give it three switch leaps out of five. It was ok, better than I expected, but still really pretty mediocre.

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