In the early 80s, the world was gifted with an Academy Award worthy cinematic masterpiece. Its subject a precocious young sprite whose talent inspired the entire world, in spite of her meager beginnings. Buoyed by a man who wanted nothing more than to spend his days with scads of little girls, working them until universal success was achieved for family, for country.
Before there was the internet and before there were the CNNs and CNBCs and NBCSNs, there was a girl who became a household name.
Her name was Nadia.
One day while casually lurking around a playground full of frolicking children, a man became intrigued by the agile young girls.
The most talented of which turned perfect cartwheels in front of her peers, underpants be damned.
This mysterious man sighs contentedly as the little girls do back handsprings. They're not weirded out by this stranger, not even a little bit.
Unfortunately, creepy lurking time is over, as the teachers ring their bells and gather the children to finish their school day. This upsets our stranger dearly, as he sprints off to catch up with one of the teachers, and explain his plight.
See, his name was Bela Karolyi, and he was scouting little girls for his new gymnastics school. The teacher understandably laughs in his face a little bit, and informs him that he must go through the proper channels if he wants to solicit children for sport. Bela argues that that would "waste precious time," because waiting even an extra minute would see these kindergarteners turned into obese teenagers. He pushes the teacher aside and gallops into the building.
Once in the classroom, Bela grills this children. He wants to know which one of them was doing the perfect cartwheels outside.
Karolyi isn't satisfied with his sole volunteer. He squats down, stares Nadia square in the monocle, and asks her "Do you think it's possible for a little girl to fly?"
We're about to find out, because before we know it, the Karolyis have amassed a legion of little girls, all ready to serve their overlords.
I wanted to make fun of Nadia's awesome legwarmers, but then I glanced over and saw that my infant son was wearing a similar pair. Except they're called Babylegs and not legwarmers. Totally different you guys. Totally different.
Nadia and her gal pal are way more excited than the mullet in white. The first order of business is to distribute these fabulous Adidas warmups. Ah, it was a better time. The girls trample one another to get their grubby paws on their new warmups. Then, the super fun and bubbly Bela plays with the girls while Martha is all "Are you effing kidding me?"
After a full day of romping in the pit with Bela, Nadia sprints home and into the arms of her father. She tells him about all of the fun things they did that day, including but not limited to: running, jumping into a foam pit full of bouncy things, tricks, new outfits, and minimal pencils, papers and books.
Papa Comaneci isn't having any of that. School is for reading, writing, and arithmatic, and that's IT. Mama C however recalls her own childhood dream of being a tumbler. But alas, gymnastics is merely a glamor sport now, what with their fancy outfits and two free meals a day. Papa calls her shit out immediately, accusing Mama of living her life through her child. I have no idea what he's talking about.
Back at the gym, the army of little girls arrive to a dark gym. They call out for Comrade Professor. Wherever could he be? This is an awesome time to play hide and seek, they decide. The army wastes no time scattering to various corners of the gym, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Comrade Professor.
The super fun and not abusive even a little Karolyi shows up, and wonders aloud where his army of little girls are. They all take turns jumping out and surprising their coach. Oh the fun! Oh the laughter!
But no time for any of that. Martha introduces their newest pupil, Teodora Ungureanu. She of the hoarded hot dogs.
Step One: Introduction.
Step Two: Floor Routine.
Step Three: Impress Spanny.
Step Four: Remind us of Geza Pozar.
Step Five: Through back tucks, aerials, and three backhandsprings into a front headspring, collect the admiration of the rest of the army, and in turn have them maul you as if you were a basket full of brand new Adidas warmups.
Nadia's about fifty shades of confused because how could this girl just roll up and be better than everyone else? But instead of being threatened, Nadia cozies up to her new best friend. Keep your enemies close. And the duo begins an unspoken dance of the besties.
So, yeah. Then they gaze into each others eyes as they talk about their hopes and dreams.
Super happy funtimes Bela is helping his army of little girls jump out of the van once they have arrived at Romanian Nationals. They are approached by an evil man named Nicolai and his mustacheod pal.
He's all about ready to mount Martha when Bela turns around and gives him the stinkeye. Martha randomly explains that Bela is in charge of the bars and vault, to which Nicolai responds "Undoubtedly." There's an insult there but I don't get it. I feel like I should get it. No time though, because Nicolai and the Mustache Man are off to go woo the Bucharest team of real women.
On beam, we see the army of children do various L7 routines. Mad props (do the kids say that anymore?) to the film for having real gymnasts do real gymnastics. You don't have to be the world's greatest actress when you can do a back walkover on beam.
A nice-enough BWO may garner you an ass-smack from your adult male coach. If you're lucky.
Anchoring the team on beam is our starlet, Nadia. After nailing her valdez, she does a Komova jump off the beam after a full turn. She loses her focus and falls of again, this time after a pivot. Teodora is bummed for her friend, Nicolai and the Stache are disappointed, but Bela is downright outraged. Nadia longingly stares at her coach, but he ignores her like the abusive boyfriend that he is.
On the bus ride home, the army is happily singing while Nadia sits alone in the back. Bela notices her, and in an act of kindness, gets up to accompany her and tell her that everything's OK, it's OK for a 8 year old girl to fall off the beam in what is only a sport.
Just kidding. He guilts her, and reminds her repeatedly that she was the best and she didn't live up to the hype that it's absolutely necessary to heap upon an 8 year old. He then tells her that she's not serious about gymnastics, just so he can hear her say that she is serious about gymnastics. Nothing like a little manipulation to really create a champion, I always say.
Part of Bela's speech included a revelation that he should be a huge dick, and that would make him a better coach. So back at the gym, he is for whatever reason coaching beam, when Nadia's original bestie is working on dismounts. She does a seemingly normal cartwheel into a back tuck, when Bela grabs her by the shoulders and tells her that she needs to "USE YOUR MIND!!" So that's where MLT got it. Bela turns away to bark at another little girl for one second when the Original Bestie goes for the dismount again without a spot. She of course eats shit.
Bela informs Martha that they will be taking their army of little girls to Montreal in 1976. Martha cackles, because duh Bela, they're too young. I mean, they haven't even won Euros yet. So Bela is all "Yup. That's why we're going to Paris."
Yeah, not if Nicolai has anything to say about it. Teodora of the Hot Dogs was the only one worth anything, and that's because she was trained by another coach.
As usual, Bela manages to get his way, and both Teodora and Nadia are sent to Paris for the European Championships.
What a random little gem. The girl who played Teodora is an absolute star, and consistently delivers these little bits of gold throughout the film. I always wonder how she got cast in the smaller part. Unless Teodora is just supposed to be wittier, cuter, more talented, and all-around better than Nadia.
Bela and the girls have been dumped at the Paris airport, and are desperately searching for anyone who can help them get to the arena. A gentlemen who was sent to escort them claims that no way in hell will filthy old Romanians be allowed into the competition. This doesn't sit well with Bela. He commandeers a taxi, and they race off to the meet.
Once there, the security guard tries to explain that no one from God-forsaken nasty ROMANIA will be allowed in their precious arena. Bela feigns defeat as he slings the girls over his shoulders and barges into the competition.
In staying true to absolute accuracy, everyone competes in a dark arena under spotlights. Bela and his girls are intrigued.
Despite their obvious desire to watch fake Ludmila Tourischeva perform, Bela stuffs the girls' heads down below the podium, lest they be seen.
Bela decides that this is an opportune moment to go and beg the judges to let his girls compete. Because what judge really needs to watch the reigning Olympic champion's routine? Far be it for them to ignore the crazy man sprinting up to their table in the middle of a routine.
While their coach is being hauled off by security, Nadia and Teodora are calmly prepping themselves for major international competition.
The girls notice their coach being generally insane, but they're really more interested in watching their idol perform.
Following Tourischeva's routine, the announcer informs the crowd that everyone will now move to the balance beam. Because that's how it works. Bela's all "OH HELL NO" and screams for Nadia to do her routine.
Bela implores the crowd to clap along with her routine, as that is a surefire way to success.
Even though she 100% got the shaft, the classy Teodora is in awe and applauds for her friend. The Soviets are getting all salty because some little brat rolls up and outdoes their star. The nerve.
Though he has yet to make an appearance in the film, and my Spanny senses tell me he will, we see a display of classic Geza Poszar choreography.
Nadia stands up to salute, and makes sure not to smile. NO SMILES. Because she's serious, and little girls who don't smile never have any fun. Bela is convulsing on the sidelines.
Teodora is happily clapping, and it sucks because she's so happy and you know she's going to just be shit on for the rest of time. It's probably why she hoards hot dogs now.
Back to the gym, Bela is pushing his girls. "One hundred billion situps. Begin." Teodora rolls in late, because honestly she is over Bela's shit. After a montage of the girls conditioning, we are introduced to the obvious star of the film.
During a break from their intense booty-shaking choreography lessons, the girls dine on a feast of carrot sticks and smuggled pieces of bread.
Bela discovers the hidden bread, and he's none to happy about it. Teodora offers Nadia another delicious carrot stick.
Bela demands that Geza teach Nadia how to smile, because no smiles = misery.
We forward to another major meet, where Nadia is on top of the podium, and poor Teodora is second. AGAIN. Nadia salutes, and grimaces instead of smiles. NO SMILES EVER.
We pan up to the Romanian flag, and when we pan down, Nadia has aged about 700 years.
Back home in Onesti, Teodora once again rolls up late for conditioning. She too has grown up very quickly.
Finally we arrive in Montreal. Teodora is totally pumped while Nadia is terrified.
In their dorm room, the Romanian girls are packed in about six deep. Nadia wakes Teodora up from her makeshift bed on the couch, and implores her to smell all of that glorious, delicious food wafting in from the window. Teodora suggests they sneak down to the village and see what all the smells are about.
Once in the village cafe, Nadia inhales her small sundae while Teodora seductively licks her spoon for the cute male athletes strutting by.
Nadia is aghast at how Teodora could possibly think about boys when there were sundaes present. Also, Dora wasn't eating hers fast enough, so Nadia took care of it for her.
The entire Comaneci gang is gathering around the black and white TV, waiting to watch their girl become a star.
Bela tells his girls not to be intimidated by the other, more successful gymnasts surrounding them. All it means is "that they used to be good."
Is there anything better than Adidas leotards? The answer is no.
Nadia is getting a little nervous, so Martha comes over and helps her stretch. One feel of the belly and Martha is onto Nadia- she knows that she ingested something unsavory the prior evening.
Teodora is up first on bars, and while Nadia occasionally glances over at her best friend of all time, she's really more focused on herself. Nadia is about to mount the podium, but she just then realizes that Bela isn't immediately at her side. She asks Martha where he was, and Martha tells her that he's relegated to the stands, as only female coaches are allowed on the floor during female events. Nadia is far too co-dependent for this shit. But go on she must, so she scowls while saluting, and the dramatic music begins. There are about 70 minutes between her salute and her mount, because first we must see a montage of her falling off of beam, running into her papa's arms, Bela playing hide and seek with the army of little girls, her coach massively guilt tripping her on the bus home from her first major meet... sigh, such memories. Suddenly, she spots Bela going batshit in the stands, making indecipherable motions that I'm assuming are an attempt to coach her from afar. The jaunty music picks up as Nadia finally kips up to the bars. She throws a Ray release on the high bar, which is interesting. I had to snoop around a bit, but finally #Nastiafan101 threw me a bone and informed me that the stunt double for Nadia, Marcia Frederick, actually competed what was to become a Ray in the late 70s. So there you go.
Triumphant music blares as Nadia competes in slow motion. Not just certain parts are in slo-mo. The entire thing. It's OK though because the music is so loud and motivating that my son felt compelled to grab onto the table and start dancing. So you know it's good. It's probably ranked second only to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Hot Dog song. Teodora knows what I'm talking about.
Nadia jumps off of the podium, and none of her teammates hug her probably because they know how insane she is. Back at home, the Comaneci clan is hugging and high-fiving one another. Until the score comes up.
Mass confusion and hysteria, both at home and abroad.
The crowd rabbles and whistles while the judges confer. And only after some tense seconds does the announcer inform the crowd that, what's this, it can't be, why yes, yes it is! It is the first perfect ten in the modern Olympic Games!
Nadia immediately stops smiling, scowls, stares like an alien, and salutes her adoring subjects. All of this brings a clearly inebriated Papa Comaneci to tears.
Nadia sneers at the flag being raised while Fake Nellie Kim sobs silently inside, knowing that her life has been ruined before it even began.
Upon her arrival home, Nadia is mobbed by reporters. They ask her super important questions regarding her diet and boyfriends. Nadia's like "Hey asswipes. Why don't you ask me about gymnastics?"
From the get-go, Nadia is salty and rude to the press. Did the producers of this film hate her or something? I feel as though the real Nadia, although slightly reserved, was cheeky and charming to the media. This biopolar bot is not doing the real Nadia any favors.
Back at the gym, the newest and staunchest supporter of Team Karolyi, Nicolai, is giving tours of the gym to various dignitaries. They gawk and marvel at Nadia, while she dances through a floor routine that she seemingly made up herself. It's very adult and mature.
Lovely. Too bad Bela rolls up because he is none too happy about the lack of rump shaking and awkward tantrums in the routine. "Where are the hand gestures??" he demands to know. Nadia quickly reminds him "Hey jagoff, maybe you forgot, but I'm the reigning Olympic Champion. I pay your bills."
Bela entertains her for about half a second, and then he reminds her who's the boss. He orders her to do the old routine, which causes her to stomp and pout but she ultimately does it.
While Nadia is busy smacking her own ass while bending over, Teodora is being blinded on beam.
Bela has reached his limit of bullshit for the day, so he screams at his visitors to leave the gym immediately. This doesn't sit well with Nicolai. Bela reminds him that his asshole dignitary pals almost caused an injury to one of their girls. Nicolai gives zero shits, and tells Bela that he has made a very, very big mistake. Just imagine a serial killer saying those words, and you'll get the gist of the scene.
Nicolai and his googly eye are probably going to murder someone. Sooner rather than later. But first, he's off to seduce Mama Comaneci.
Papa C comes home to find Mama giggling like a schoolgirl with the googly Nicolai. Papa doesn't seem like an entirely rational man to begin with, so naturally this scene doesn't sit well with him. Nicolai has quickly convinced Mama that Karolyi is an evil man, and they need to move Nadia to Bucharest ASAP. Nadia inexplicably shows up to her home to see her father's silhouette as he screams NOOOOOO from outside.
Back at the gym, Bela and Martha show up to an empty gym, which is not unusual for them. They just assume that their army is playing Hide and Seek.
Teenage girls love Hide and Seek. Bela makes a huge production out of hunting for the girls while Martha heads upstairs to answer an ominously ringing telephone.
Martha comes down the stairs and is all "Bela, OMG, stop. Just stop. You are an adult male. Oh, by the way, the girls are all gone."
The girls are, in fact, in Bucharest. And Bucharest is slightly different than Onesti. Slightly.
Upon arrival, Nadia and Teodora are greeted by a gaggle of male gymnasts, who are casually kicking a soccer ball around. And by greeted I mean swarmed while chanting "NADIA COMANECI, NADIA COMANECI!"
New Coach Cool introduces himself to the girls, and tells them that their warmups will consist of stretching and chatting. Teodora shits her pants with excitement. After practice, there's a hip shindig happening down at the hop.
A particular Aryan boy takes and immediate liking to Nadia. He goes by the name Schvitzy. He offers the gals some beer. Schvitzy introduces everyone to Nadia while Teodora stands alone by the door.
It's extra sad because she saved her best dress for this very occasion. I don't know why they insist on giving Nadia puffy sideburns for every scene. After the party, Nadia and Schvitzy begin to "go steady," as the kids say these days. They attempt to go for a nice walk in the park, but Nadia's fans come out of the forest like a gang of zombies. Nadia windmills her arms as she spasticly races through the park. Schvitzy gets off on the fact that Nadia is the most famous person in Romania, and then they make out in a tree.
Nadia attends a gala being held in her honor. She show her on TV, and all she does is stuff her face. Back home in Onesti, this please Stefania Comaneci greatly. She can't believe her daughter is living the good life in BUCHAREST, of all places! It's where she's always belonged. Papa C is about 20 seconds from murdering his wife.
After the gala, Nadia returns home to her dorm, only to overhear Teodora and the gals mocking her.
The girls make fun of Nadia, while Teodora asks "What are we, meatballs??" The other random teammate is all "Um, speaking of meatballs... have you noticed how big she's gotten?" and the final random is like "Fat. The word you're looking for is fat." This is basically tumblr before there was tumblr, when people used to gossip and bitch to each other in person.
Nadia bursts into the room. The girls awkwardly say goodnight, and the randoms leave to go back to their room. She confronts Teodora, asking her she tells everyone that she's fat. Teodora calmly explains "Well, you are fat."
She's not even bitchy when she says it. She's very rational. I love her. Then she lays down the real talk.
Teodora is better than Nadia. She works just as hard as Nadia. If Bela didn't have such a tummy boner for Nadia, he would have chosen Teodora to compete at Euros, and she would have been the star.
Nadia counters that it's not her fault that no one pays attention to Teodora. Dora's like "Fine bitch, peace out," and leaves her room to go stay with the randoms. Nadia's like "Fine. Fine. Don't be my friend. DON'T BE MY FRIEND AT ALLLLLLLL!!!!"
Some time later, Nadia and her mother stroll around Bucharest. Mama C informs Nadia that she and her brother are moving to town. Nadia's like "Um, what about Dad?" and Mama's all "About that, he's psychotic and we're divorcing, mostly because of you." Nadia asks about Bela, and Mama tells her that they've relocated to Deva, since Onesti blamed them for losing the National Team.
Nadia's in the gym, working out alone, as is so common. Nicolai and this judge that shows up everywhere watch from above, and note that she can't do shit anymore. Fortunately, Nicolai has a solution. He wants the lady judge to confine her to the dormitory. You know, create somewhat of a jail feeling. Also, no food or visitors. Especially not Schvitzy.
Back in her jail cell, Nadia gathers up her laundry, and pours a cup of bleach.
She putters about the room for a moment, and then lounges on her book, staring wistfully at a picture of her parents. Then her eyes drift back to the cup of bleach.
Hmmmm, what to do, what to do.... Should she do laundry? Or should she drink it?
And just like that, she is hauled off to the psych ward. Once there, Papa C pleads for her to come home with him, and quit this good-for-nothing sport of gymnastics. It is literally killing her. She refuses, saying she must train. SHE. MUST. TRAIN.
Far, far away in a land called Deva, a new army of little girls is competing at the Romanian National Championships. Nadia discreetly sits in the stands, and checks out the newest soldiers.
The little girl is onto her though. We learn that Deva is kicking the collective huge asses of the Bucharest team, and this please Bela greatly. Emelia Eberle is the new Nadia, winning everything. Nicolai senses this, and saunters up to Bela, asking him how his favorite and most successful coach ever is doing.
Bela is not impressed. Nicolai tells Bela that the Federation wants him to take over the National Team, to which Bela replies "Shant." He also reminds this douche that the World Championships are five weeks ago. Five. Cinco. Ain't nobody got time for all of that. Nicolai clarifies that they want Bela's team to be the National Team, with two exceptions. Those being Nadia and Teodora. Bela is all "Eat a dick, BYEEE."
Back at the hotel, Bela and Martha are celebration their success. Bela holds up a handful of medals, acting like he personally won them. I guess Emelia doesn't get to keep her own medals. There is a knock at the door, and Martha goes to answer it. She doesn't recognize the large beast in front of her. Slowly, recognition comes.
Bela is still reeling from Nadia breaking up with him, yet he reluctantly agrees to take her back on. But only if he gets to torture her.
Bela laughs maniacally as Nadia rides the struggle bus. Like in Bucharest, food is still restricted, so Nadia must sprint down to the cafeteria under the veil of night to steal sandwiches.
Bela's sandwich senses begin to tingle, so he storms down the hallway to tear apart the guard stationed outside of Nastia's room.
Bela stomps into Nadia's room, where she is playing possum. He rips the covers off of her, the discover that she is passionately spooning a sub sandwich.
Bela hauls her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes that she's not supposed to eat, and he launches her into the kitchen. He pulls out the mayo and cottage cheese and ham. He screams at her for being a pathetic disgusting eater who eats. Shame shame shame!! For anyone who has dealt with an eating disorder, this is basically a physical representation of what goes on in your head. If you dare to eat, you are an out of control, obese waste of space, and you'll never amount to anything. So thanks Bela. Thank you for that.
Once she stops eating, Nadia quickly regains her endurance and can now outrace Bela. Hooray for starvation! Unfortunately, her new form cannot keep her from stumbling for seemingly no reason in the middle of the forest.
Bela grabs her by the arm, and she cries out in pain. She has an cut on her wrist, and Bela tells her to take care of it. Ugh, but she's not a little girl anymore, can't he see?
Five weeks later, it's time for the 1979 World Championships held in Fort Worth, TX. Bela is warming up another team member, but he pushes her over once he sees that Nadia's arm is bleeding. He is PISSED. Now they're going to lose to the Russians AGAIN, all because of this stupid bitch! How COULD she??
Good thing that the thin, obedient Teodora is there to save the day. Nadia is hiding in the hallway when she hears Romania's Emilia Eberle announced.
Teodora shows up, and they rekindle their friendship by admitting that these new kids are SO much better than they are. But even then, that doesn't keep the little army from falling from time to time.
Gymnastics is usually sponsored by beer companies. Eberle falls from the beam, which means the Russians are going to win AGAIN. Nadia sees this as the perfect opportunity to show up that little bitch Eberle, and if she can help the team in the process, then that's great.
Triumphant music once again blares as Nadia readies to mount the beam with her bloodied wrist.
As a child, the only gymnastics book available to me was Mary Lou Retton's Creating an Olympic Champion. There was no gymternet to research on, and youtube was still 700 million years away. So I believed everything this book said. There are largely two portions to the book: one with Mary Lou's story, and one with Bela's. Bela boisterously recalled the legend of Nadia, and not without the telling of the story of 1979. Bela claims that this one routine was simply miraculous in it's brilliance. Her infected hand never even touch the beam- NOT ONCE. Her mount was a one-armed press handstand, and did everything else with one hand. I was riveted. Fascinated. I spent years trying to find video of this incredible routine, especially the mount. I traded for tape after tape, each one with the mount cut out. Then Youtube eventually existed, and I continued to search for this incredible and illusive mount.
Perhaps I dreamed it, but I feel like I saw it once. Except that it wasn't magical, it was just a press handstand mount. With two hands. Was that real life or am I making that up?
But I know I have seen the rest of the real routine, and it is largely unremarkable. Two back tucks, a front aerial, and a double full dismount. Her hand touches the beam multiple times. Talk about deflated expectations.
But this film still manages to glorify the routine. She nails it, and Bela succumbs to convulsions.
Nadia grimaces while she waves for about twenty minutes while the judges calculate their scores. She is awarded a 9.95, just enough for Romania to hand the Soviet Union their first loss ever.
Pandemonium! Nadia is still waving when Bela sprints up to her, and hauls her off of the podium.
That's not awkward at all. Nadia sits upon Bela's shoulder and continues to wave to the crowd. Bitch loves waving.
Thank God they told us what happened to Geza. After showing him for 30 seconds, I desperately wondered for the rest of the film "Whatever happened to the choreographer that taught Nadia to smile??" I can rest easy now.
And that my friends is that. The end of the movie and thus, the end of the longest recap ever. What a gem. What a classic. I wonder how much, on a scale from 1-10, how much the real Nadia hates this movie. How bitter is Bart Connor that he was never mentioned? Probably very bitter.
*Special thank you goes to Charlie's dad. Thank you for being my spirit animal.*