GabbyDouglascoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  Yes
2014, 86 min., Color
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Rated G
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  F

The Gabby Douglas Story seems tailor-made for families with little girls who have big dreams.

This biopic about Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, who quickly rose from obscurity to compete in the 2012 London games, aired on Lifetime and has that golly G-rated Lifetime feel to it—maybe a little too direct in its plotting, and a little too ready to tug at the heartstrings. But darn it, teenage role models for little girls aren’t all that easy to come by, so it’s easy to overlook a cultivated wholesomeness when the underlying message is so positive.

Besides, Lifetime or not, this 86-minute drama is a good one. It proves that it’s possible to create a successful film that doesn’t have smart-mouthed kids, sex, drinking, drugs, or swearing. There’s only a little mean-spirited talk from some of the gym rats, but even that’s mild. Meanwhile, the virtues showcased here are as clear and crisp as Douglas’s phenomenal routines: hard work, dedication, sacrifice, family togetherness, perseverance, and a toughness that enables you to play through the pain and get past your own self-doubts. In that respect, it’s like so many other athlete biopics. The hurdles may look different, but the track is essentially the same, which is why this film will appeal to more than just little girls. 

If the name is familiar but her accomplishments aren’t coming to mind, Gabby Douglas, as her official website bio confirms, was “the first woman of color of any nationality and the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the Individual All-Around Champion. She is also the first American gymnast to win gold in both the gymnastic individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic games.”

Director Gregg Champion (“Amish Grace”) stays reasonably close to Douglas’s life story, and we see her mother struggle to keep the family afloat when their father experiences a setback. As it happened in real life, we see how Douglas came to gymnastics via the one-handed cartwheel her sister taught her. Once we get past a few Cosby Show moments—Mom simply smiles and shrugs after tiny Gabby’s flips break things in the house—and an older sister suggests gymnastics lessons, the film finds its groove and pretty much stays in it.

GabbyDouglasscreenWe follow Gabby as she trains at the local gym and then moves from Virginia to Iowa so she can train with Liang Chow. There, as the film depicts, she lived with a host family and became a big sister to the Partons’ four daughters. Douglas is a deeply religious Christian, but this film isn’t used as a form a ministry. It’s her story of athletic triumph, and religion is limited to hand-holding prayers at dinner time and talk about God with her mother. That’s good, because it still comes across loud and clear without the bullhorn.

The Gabby Douglas Story is well cast, with Regina King a sympathetic mother, Sydney Mikayla (ages 7-12) and Imani Hakim (ages 14-16) doing a fine job as Gabby, and Gabby herself featured in the competition gymnastic routines in a seamless story.

At this time The Gabby Douglas Story is only available on DVD, but what a surprise that there isn’t a single bonus feature!