There is one priceless moment in “The Gabby Douglas Story” near the end, where the movie flashes back through the Olympic champion’s life — at that point, all 16 years of it. Otherwise, Lifetime’s contribution to Black History Month is really more of an ode to Let’s Piggyback on the Olympics Month, with Regina King providing the only heft in the most interesting part of Douglas’ biography as her caring and sacrificing mother. Douglas briefly appears in the movie and helped produce it, but despite its feel-good trappings, this project never gets airborne enough to even try to stick the landing.
Two young actresses (Imani Hakim, Sydney Mikayla) play Douglas at different ages, as the gymnastics prodigy is birthed, grows up one of four kids to King’s single mom and eventually discovers her calling. Of course, the expense of the sport is a hardship, and matters aren’t helped when Gabby discovers her dream coach, Liang Chow (Brian Tee), lives far away in Iowa, until a kindly family agrees to take her in with them while she’s training.
That’s all a fairly public and well-known aspect of Douglas’ biography, and the movie doesn’t really try to go much beyond that. In that respect, this is the sort of dutiful programmer the networks used to churn out in droves during a different era, back when all three major broadcasters were in the TV movie business.
From a practical standpoint, there’s the little matter of replicating Douglas’ aerial feats on apparatus like the uneven parallel bars and the vault, which results in a lot of awkward editing in which the actress playing her has to strike a pose right after gymnastics footage is shown.
Obviously, Douglas’ story is an uplifting one, although her success in a sport not readily associated with African-American athletes (seemingly an angle, given the timing) is limited primarily to the visual of seeing her surrounded predominantly by pigtailed little white kids. Meanwhile, Tee’s coach gets saddled with a lot of dialogue that falls somewhere between legendary basketball coach John Wooden and “The Karate Kid’s” Mr. Miyagi, such as, “Every moment of your life has led to this,” and, “A champion isn’t made of muscle; a champion is made of heart.”
Written by Maria Nation (sharing story credit with Sterling Anderson) and directed by Gregg Champion, “The Gabby Douglas Story” is pretty much made of spit and bailing wire. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it renders the otherwise stirring story of this golden girl barely worthy of a bronze.