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Soapy And Melodramatic Sports Biopic

4/10
Author: secragt from United States
20 September 2003

Sudsy biopic of sprinter Gail Devers comes up short largely due to flawed, uncertain storytelling. Movie begins with Devers' rapid rise to fame and attempts to show her hidden angst (marital strife, pressures to perform, mysterious weight issues) but mainly catalogues a series of soap operatic weep-pieces. We want to sympathize with Dever's profound health swings but because the filmmakers never really get to her personality, inner drive and feelings, we never really connect with her. Yes, she's worried about her weight, but what's behind it? She has problems with her husband, but what drove them apart? In particular, complex key relationships with her husband and parents are broached but ultimately little more than glossed over. The good cast features a strangely muted Louis Gossett Jr. as her coach, an almost entirely wasted Robert Guillaume as her smothering father and a game but not script-supported Charlayne Woodard as Devers.

One plus is the training sequence following Devers' slow descent into bloated foot hell. The sequence only lasts a few minutes but kicks the movie momentarily into inspirational high gear with Gossett winningly coaxing Woodard to take the painful first steps back into her life. There is heart in these scenes and the swelling music momentarily brings hope that things will dramatically improve. Unfortunately, the story abruptly flashes forward to the next Olympics and anti-climactically documents her gold medal. This is a tragic mis-step because the very best part of the movie is the portion they spend the least amount of time on. While we get her gold medal, there is a sense that we have not been sufficiently rewarded for all the time we've had to endure sitting through all of Devers' pain.

The meat of a good sports movie is as often in the individual's striving, their motivational mindgames and the unique quirks which endear them to us as it is in the actual event in which they compete. In this case, the filmmakers chose to focus on the dregs of Devers' life and ran them into the ground, almost completely ignoring her road back, which is the far more compelling story. What made Devers the way she is? What made her refuse the medicine that could have saved her years of pain and near amputation? We have guesses (internally created pressures and complex ambivalent feelings for her coach / husband / father) but the movie mainly sensationalizes these incidents rather than really examining them. The result is an unsatisfying diet version of a harrowing story which upsets us but never really moves us. 4 / 10

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A rather feeble attempt.

5/10
Author: accurate from Upwey, Victoria, Australia
10 February 2002

Hollywood is usually very good at sports hero biographies, but this story of Gail Devers bombs out badly in my view. We join Gail when she is well into her top form just before the 1988 Olympics. Fair enough, but at some stage we expect to find out about her life leading up to this point; for instance, her running background, her relationship with her coach, how she met her husband and so on. We get nothing. There are some positives, like the fine acting and the portrayal of the complicated nature of her illness, but these are offset by some laughable so-called "Olympic" heats and finals, played to almost empty stadiums, with a few "rent-a-crowd" extras in the background. Quite disappointing.

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