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HomeGymnasticsA Dying to Win Recap – The Balance Beam Situation

A Dying to Win Recap – The Balance Beam Situation

This month, Lifetime released its Cannes Film Festival submission called Dying to Win (I am bowled over by this title originality), which is described as follows: “A gold medal gymnast gets caught in a web of lies when her mother and stepdad are found murdered in the family home.”


Love a “gold medal gymnast.” If she had ever once finished second, it would have been a pass from me.

Should we get into it?

We meet Jesse Wagner (alias Shawn Peszek-Sloanaroney) hobbling near a precarious cliffside beach mansion while wearing every piece of Team USA swag ever produced smashed on top of each other. Is this supposed to tell me she’s a US gymnast? No way of knowing. We’ll get Nancy Drew on it.


At this point, we also learn that Jesse has never once used a phone before this moment.

Do I….touch it?

She immediately goes live to 56k viewers on SnapstaReal to say, “What you don’t know is how this last week has crushed me.” So she’s every single college gymnast’s every conversation during finals?

She then says, “This is how I choose to end it, goodbye” and pretends to be jumping off this one-foot-high sand dune.

What I love is that her viewers go down by 500 during this fake suicide. Those 500 people were like, “BO-RING. SEEN IT.”

But just one week earlier, she was on top of the world!!!! She was dismounting beam with a back pike! She was conveniently cutting away before her split position! She was doing a layout full on floor! She had…THIS THING:

As if it even needs to be said after that magic, Jesse is the Olympic champion. Well, actually we can’t legally say “Olympics,” so…she won the only gold medal available at “the big competition.”

The reflected glow of winning Gold Medal at Big Competition was enough to book her a spot on the Katie Moore Show, a local prop closet full of old candlesticks and cat statues that streams live to 4s of people on the interwebs.

Katie Moore is supposed to be sort of like if Katie Couric and Tyra Banks had a talentless child that they gave up for adoption, and she immediately delivers an A+ moment in the history of misunderstood line readings by telling us that over five years ago, Jesse “won America” instead of the actual line, that she “won America over.”

So…she won America? Big Competition was America??? And she won it????

President Jesse proceeds to trot out for this interview, sporting the latest look from the Nana’s Curtains collection.

This interview is almost as much of a goldmine as Big Competition, where the big GOTCHA moment is that this whole movie is actually about the 1992 all-around.

This is history’s best gymnastics interview. Bless you for bestowing us with this GIF.

We learn that the True Deserving Winner was actually fellow American Aurora Van Doren, who was 100% going to win Big Competition because here she is doing a Yurchenko back pike at probably the Olympic Trials—which is famously held at a middle school.

Breaking: Big Competition might be L9 regionals.

But why didn’t Aurora win??? Did she fall on beam???? Did she have a 0.7 D score on every event???? No!

It was because she DIED IN A CAR ACCIDENT shortly before the meet—while Jesse was driving!

So, I mean, can she really have “deserved” to win gold if she was dead by the time the meet happened? Sorry, but someone had to say it. She didn’t compete ANY routines at Big Competition.

At this point, Jesse pulls out her greatest and only trick, which is turning to camera and emotionally remembering all the good times she and Aurora had standing on podiums together while hearing sirens to indicate PTSD.

To be fair, Hearing Sirens While Standing On Podiums was what they were going to rename JO before they came up with Developmental Program.

Also, Jesse’s Momager Extraordinaire is literally in the back of the shot during the interview. What even is this show, KATIE.

Maybe that’s why you have to scream “BUT MY RATINGS” every other line. Just a thought.

Anyway, the only possible conclusion one can draw after this interview is that Jesse is a full murderer who drove Aurora right into a brick wall because Aurora’s Yurchenko back pike was so Olympics.

Which, Momager Extraordinaire explains, is bad.

It definitely won’t get her invited back to judge on Nonspecific Reality Show.

“With the way it went, we’d be lucky if they ask you to be the mascot.” WHY IS THERE A MASCOT?

But honestly, you won Big Competition a full five years ago and you’re not even out there dangling a Half-Assed Comeback for media attention? Have you learned nothinggggg? Sheryl Shade wept!

Obviouysly Nonspecific Reality Show is ready to move on from you! I mean, who was the gold medal gymnast at the most recent Big Competition, where you apparently didn’t even compete? Suni is IN THE WINGS ready to Eve Harrington your shit. Think it through.

After the interview, we get into the car and Momager Extraordinaire immediately starts Cruella De Vil driving at a shocking…….73 miles per hour?


She starts sort of haphazardly screaming the word FOLLOWERS at anyone and anything while checking all the boxes: I’m living out my own failed dreams through you, you need to have an eating disorder, we’re barely making ends meet.

But also…why are you barely making ends meet if Jesse had a network TV job until, what a couple months ago? That seems like a red flag.

So Momager starts doing regular things like pretending to drive right into the back of a semi until her daughter screams that winning is the most important thing in the world (you know, mom stuff). And then we arrive home to…THIS IS THE MOMAGER’S BOYFRIEND????

How? But like how? I need a whole sequel about how she tricked this man into looking at her.

Anyway he’s fully burning these clumps of dinner and no one notices even a little.

Obviously, Jesse wants to bang her maybe-stepdad x1000. That doesn’t even make the top 50 of weirdest things that are happening here, and she escapes to her bedroom to doodle Mrs. My Stepdad in hearts all over her school (?) notebooks.

Which brings us to this character’s age.

Because what is it? Depending on the scene, she is either 14 or 21, and it switches interchangeably back and forth as needed. Sometimes she is an adult woman getting served in a bar, and sometimes she is straight-up 11.

Back in her room, Jesse discovers that she dropped below 1 million followers on SnapstaReal following her being obviously a murderer (but for why?????), so she takes a handful of Drug Pills about it, does two pushups, and struggles on a press handstand to make her followers like her again. SOLVED.

The next morning, she comes downstairs as Momager Extraordinaire exclaims, “Jesse, it’s over!”

What exactly is over is unclear and never explained. But it’s over. IT.

The two get into a fight over it—and whether it’s over or not—and then one of the finest moments in cinema history occurs, when Momager slams a glass onto the counter and one of the shards manages to torpedo itself due east right into Jesse’s cheek-eye.

Alas, Jesse has suffered one of those cuts that doesn’t appear until you get to your bedroom, at which point she decides to crawl out the window and escape to the house of the Only Person She Can Trust In A Not Ominous Way, her agent Connor HiredForFace.

Connor lives with his housekeeper Ava, whose accent is from a different country in every scene. They force Jesse to guzzle 80 liters of There-There Lemonade so that she can calm down—only to realize “MY PILLS ARE AT HOME.”

Telegraphing nothing, Connor goes, “Pills? Why, I have pills! My favorite kind of pill is pill. Do you need pill? Take pill.”

Jesse’s like, “Cool, seeing as all pills are interchangeable, I will now, sight unseen, down 3 whole containers of pills from pill cupboard.” She also eats two potato chips, which is treated with the exact same gravity.

Upon looking at a bottle of vodka, Jesse is then instantly teleported to Disco Ball Club (which is how it works), where she starts dancing the old “93 pills and a vodka” blackout shuffle.

The bartender begins staring at her with deep concern, and you think he’s going to be like, “Do I need to call you a car or a morgue?” but instead he’s like, drink uppppp let’s dance while I’m on my shiffftttt. Cool.

When we rejoin the action, it’s about 3pm the next March when Jesse returns home, so either she went to town on that bartender for a damn semester, or she joined an elaborate opossum family and learned all their customs.

But OH NO. She walks inside and there are three books on the ground! The universal sign that something awful happened here!

They’re dead! Hot boyfriend and Momager! Dead by murder! We know they’re dead because of a closeup of bare feet, which is also how doctors do it.

Later that day, the MURDER Detectives arrive, allowing the tone to shift drastically to police procedural as everyone starts auditioning for Law and Order so hard they tear an ACL.

“Alibi. Suspect. Perp. Do some digging.”

Mmm…we’ll let you know.

OK, wait. Excuse me. Excuse me. The murder weapon is supposed to be this Target-ass lamp?

That thing couldn’t kill a dream!

If you got hit with that you’d be like, thanks for the scalp massage.

The MURDER Detectives question Jesse about MURDER in front of her gigantic period advertisement that she has on the living room wall.

She’s like, wait, I’m not perp! I have alibi! “I went to a nightclub!”

A nightclub??? A nightclub. What, did you go see Ricky Ricardo at the Tropicana?

After three hours of interrogation (that’s not me saying that, that’s the actual movie saying that), the detectives have asked a grand total of one single question and established that she may or may not have been at the Tropicana, so they’re about to move on to the “you seem…like sort of murdery?” portion of the interview.

That’s when Cooper HiredForFace bursts in. “I’m taking Jesse home, to my home, which is a normal thing to do!”

Once back at normal home, Cooper reintroduces Jesse to vodka (BUM BUM BUMMMM) and that same pill bottle from before. Nothing in this house isn’t that one pill bottle. Except for…HIS OFFICE.

Wait. Wait. Your office is a little side table with a typewriter on it? I have so many question about your office. Stop the movie. What? How does this work? Where do you sit? What if you need the internet?

He then shows Jesse—gasp—a bedroom, with a bed in it, to show us that he’s thinking about what happens on beds. Which is sex.

Jesse decides to take a shower and remember that her mom died this morning, which she indicates through the medium of shaking. When she gets out, she finds that same pill bottle in the pocket of her robe. Again, nothing in this house isn’t that pill bottle.

Fortunately, pill bottle fixes dead mom, so Jesse is feeling dandy as punch now. She casually tweets that she’s living with her agent now that her mom died this morning (zero QTs on that one probably) and then starts messaging Bar Hookup.

We learn a crucial piece of information at this point, that Bar Hookup’s screen name is “QuinnTheLastBarmanPoet.” Nope. Kill it.

Sadly, Jesse’s fly-ass mood is spoiled when she meanders onto the balcony to see Connor having a really natural and well-acted fight with Implied Mobster. This man’s mobishness is implied due to his being dressed entirely in black. The color that mobsters wear, and no one else.

But that’s not all! Ava is also missing and Cooper looks EVERYWHERE for her.


Someone—it’s impossible to say who—threw a classic message in a brick through the window.

Does this mean we’re not supposed to trust him? And why is Trust capitalized?

Ava then suddenly reappears in her uniform to clean up the glass. She has a moment alone with Jesse. Could she have just said the words “don’t trust him” now, or also at any other point ever? No. It had to be via window brick and only window brick.

In “remember that the mom’s dead” news, the mom is dead, and it’s the funeral. Meanwhile, that boyfriend/stepdad apparently does not get a funeral.

Cooper is here live streaming the mom’s funeral to ALL THE GYMNASTICS FANS. That’s you, btw. We have:
-Depressed lady sitting on bed
-Doctor watching this funeral in the middle of doctoring
-Woman in restaurant with creeper boyfriend
-Stylish gay man at kitchen island

You are one of the four. Or all four.

Jesse eulogizes how her mom would “help me practice my drills.” Whoa, cool it on the insider gymnastics jargon.


The nanosecond the funeral is over, Cooper immediately runs to his second office—one that apparently has an internet machine in it—to check all the very legitimate-looking emails in his spam folder.

Yes, this is how you get rehired for the fifth season of your TV show, via all-caps email. Just dripping with professionalism.

To celebrate being done with thinking about Dead Momager for basically the rest of the movie, Cooper then takes Jesse upstairs to be like, “I have a giant closet full of various women’s clothing that I bought at the Don’t Worry About Why store, and also here’s a necklace, and also a framed picture of you and Aurora as children that I have by my bed and it’s fine.”

Weirdly, Jesse’s first and most urgent question about the picture is, “Where did you get this?”

I mean…Instagram probably.

Their ensuing conversation about Aurora features a delicious little nugget that the car crash—the one where Jesse obviously drove Aurora directly into a brick wall so she couldn’t do her Yurchenko back pike—happened ONE SINGLE WEEK before Big Competition.

One week before????? Why were you driving randomly near brick walls ONE WEEK before? Why weren’t you at least in a local gym in the same city adjusting to the time change? Who was Aurora’s alternate? What was the 3-up, 3-count backup plan when she died of murder-car? Tom Forster would have been fuccckkkkeedddd. Why wasn’t the whole movie about this?

Seeing his trauma opening, Cooper tries to lean in to kiss her, and Jesse’s like, “BUT I’M ONLY……11 or 14 or 21….maybe?”

Back at the Police Officer Store, this movie really outdoes itself as the Murder Detectives make A BREAKTHROUGH. “You know, the bartender looks a lot like the mom’s boyfriend.”

Now, to be clear, these are just two entirely separate black men with beards, seen here.

Pour one out for the moment you spent thinking that this movie might be trying to make a point about racial profiling in police work until you realize they’re all just like “great point detective, you cracked it!” and then never mention it again.

Apparently this counts as Jesse’s motive for murder, and it’s deeply unclear how.

We’re back to the Katie Moore Show for some reason! Katie Moore is alone in her dressing room shouting, “Ratings, ratings, we’re just shy of #1!” to herself again. You know, like you do. But now that Jesse is so Funeral Famous that she has become Spam Email Famous, Katie Moore wants her back on the show. “I’ll even give you the questions in advance!” she exclaims, apparently modeling her level of journalistic professionalism on Hoda Kotb’s Tokyo Fangirl Adventure.

To introduce today’s interview, we see Jesse’s layout full and double cannonball again, but this time we add a squat on to high bar. THE GOLD IS YOURS.

Going live to 11 people on the show, Jesse professes that, in the wake of her mother’s lamping, she LOVESSS POLICE AND FOLLOWERS THE MOST, THEY’RE HER BIG TWO. So…she’s definitely going for the GOP nomination then? She then starts opining about her love for vodka for some reason, so yeah, she’s running.

But Katie Moore’s big GOTCHA moment this time comes in the form of…wait for it…an UGLY SCREENSHOT.

Because of the law, this ugly screenshot confirms that Jesse was the one who lamped her mother—EXHIBIT A, YOUR HONOR—and Jesse is shocked, shocked I tell you that the interview went like this.

Given Jesse’s second consecutive Murder Interview in the span of a couple days, the internet is convinced. And honestly same.

Most importantly, one of these screen names is “Mars_MLR” because you’re all simultaneously big Marz Frazier and Mary Lou Retton stans. YOUR TWO QUEENS.

Meanwhile, for reasons that it’s best not to try to think about because they are as loose as the wind, Cooper has decided to kill Bartender Hookup. Cooper disguises himself as Cooper In A Jacket and finds the bartender in a room full of fake trees and masks and an organ and a DECAPITATED DOLL BABY BEING HELD BY A MASSIVE SKELETON, reinforcing that this entire movie looks like it was shot backstage at someone else’s experimental Halloween play.

Like…WHAT IS THIS. Why are we not talking about only this?

Cooper knocks Bartender out with…1920s chloroform I guess?…and then shoots him in the head, which famously produces two single droplets of blood in a little row.

Back at home, Cooper’s like “Probably not relevant, but we should flee to Indonesia like STAT,” and Jesse’s like, “That’s a normal thing to say, I don’t think you did any murders based on that.”

But then the MURDER Detectives show up to announce that the bartender is dead from an obvious suicide that we have no questions about—mentioning nothing at all about the decapitated doll baby being held by a massive skeleton—and that he wrote his suicide note on a typewriter.

A TYPEWRITER????? I’ve seen one of those before!!!!!

Cooper then says, “Have a good night officers” in what is very obviously the middle of the day.

Jesse runs upstairs to look at the smoking typewriter to confirm that it’s a typewriter. Yep! Typewriter! I knew it! Evidence!

She’s onto him now!

During Confrontation In The Kitchen Nook, Cooper tries really, really hard to deny that he has a southern accent—or I mean that he’s a murderer who did all of the murders—and it works pretty horribly.

Jesse’s like, “If a Target lamp can kill my mom, I can definitely kill him with this frying pan!”

But, alas, it does not work. Paper covers rock, and Target lamp beats frying pan. Cooper is only unconscious, and when he awakens, the police are there to be like, “Where are the clues????”

They go look in the backyard, where murders are, and which is where Jesse is hiding. WAIT WHY ARE YOU STILL THERE. You had the whole time he was unconscious and the whole time it took the police to get there and you were just waddling around the backyard? Arrest her.

After hiding behind a single leaf to evade capture, Jesse sneaks back into the house. That’s when Ava reappears, this time with an accent originating around Lower Eurotania, to be like, “YOU DUMB BITCH WHY ARE YOU STILL IN THE HOUSE.” Good question.

Ava goes, “Meanwhile, Cooper is literally keeping me as slave in this household,” and Jesse’s like, “That’s not really on message, so back to my problem.”

So Ava sneaks Jesse into Useful Second Office, where they have the internet, and Jesse exclaims, “MY BIRTHDAY” every time she enters a password into any device like she’s in that insufferable Google commercial where they pretend like they just now invented saving passwords for the first time.

By sneaking onto Cooper’s computer, Jesse learns that “every two weeks, he’s been making a deposit into a offshore account.” Offshore tells you that bad guy.

Jesse just now, at this moment, realizes that she should have actually been making money from appearing on a network show for four years. Not the sharpest tack, our Jesse.

She also steals back Ava’s passport—to tell us that Ava was supposed to be from Mexico this whole time—and sticks it in the cleaning bucket for her.


Jesse escapes the house for actualies this time and shows up at the last place you’d expect—and by last place you’d expect, I mean literally the only place she ever goes—the set of The Katie Moore Show.

Katie Moore recaps the entire plot of the movie, and Jesse goes, “RATINGS RATING FOLLOWERS” so then they’re best friends and come up with a plan to do…plan.

Plan involves Jesse sneaking back into the Momager’s house and putting on all of her national team apparel so that she can match her look from the beginning, and for I think no other reasons. She starts doing a SnapstaReal from inside the murder house, and the gymternet is all like [poop emoji] and

Good one. “Cry us a river, MURDERER” is also my go-to.

At the Police Officer Store, the detectives see that Jesse the Murderer is going live, and by the time she finishes that same sentence, they’ve already arrived at the house. This movie really undersold the teleportation aspect of the plot.

Jesse proceeds to pour out some pills (her prescription drug addiction having been instantly cured by….he trailed off) and easily lure Cooper back to the house that is surrounded by police. V good criminal.

He then explains how he built a website (!!!!!!) and also hired Mob Guy to do Lamp Murder, and thank the sweet heavens that we get to see it.

This is perfect. I have zero notes.

But WAIT, immediately after his confession, Katie Moore emerges from a closet like, “SHE IS! I mean, I AM! Streaming. This confession.”

So anyway, Cooper stabs her, obviously, and then trots off on a light jog away from the scene of the crime.

Katie staggers out the front door going, “Coo…….per…….did…….it.” Which I mean, everyone knows at this point because of the internet. At least use your halting last words for something good.

Suddenly, Cooper’s jog has turned into a car, and now he’s driving away. But Jesse’s in the back seat! She tries to strangle Cooper with his own seatbelt, which is a good neck massage and useless, but does cause Cooper to abandon the car and run into a lush, abandoned cliffside beach house.


He corners Jesse by the cliffside and she’s like, “So what was the motive here?” And he’s like, “I don’t know, love, fame, abuse, embezzlement, whatever you want. We never really settled on that,” and Jesse’s like, “Cool.”

He then decides to lunge at her, but being GOLD MEDAL GYMNAST, she can jump, so it goes a little bit like this.

And then he was dead.

This is when we see Jesse make her fake suicide video, but really, she just throws her phone off the cliff. OHHHHHHH. So when she said, “This is how I choose to end it,” she meant her phone plan.

Resolution! Everything is going great now!

Jesse appears on The Katie Moore Show for the 153rd time this week to announce that she “wrote” a “book” and created the Aurora Van Doren Foundation “to promote strength and confidence in young women” which tbh sounds like a front for her pill addiction.

She then gives an impassioned speech about the dangers of…I don’t know apps or something. OMG THE REAL MURDERER WAS SOCIAL MEDIA ALL ALONG.

But also that guy who killed a bunch of people, right?

Meanwhile, Katie Moore is like, “Hmm, I got stabbed for you, thanks for not asking about it once.”




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