“Gimme Shelter” is a simplistic, faintly emotional account of a pregnant teen’s desperate search for help, support and compassion with the huge decision she faces. It’s simplistic because the script discounts debate over that decision and glosses over the messy details of the path she chooses. But it’s emotional because we, and plainly some of the characters, know those messy details, even if other characters do not.
Agnes (Vanessa Hudgens) is 16 and poor, the daughter of a drug addict (Rosario Dawson) who had her too young. Agnes, who decides she wants to be called “Apple,” is all piercings, ill-fitting dirty clothes and tattoos. And if she needs a case study in how life can go wrong by having a baby at that tender age, she can look at mom – a raging, staggering, yellow-toothed horror in her early 30s.
But Apple, with no more warning than an “I’m OUT,” runs away – fist-fighting her mother to get through the door. With just a little cash, the clothes on her back and a crumpled old envelope with an address on it, she sets out in search of the father she’s never met.
There are misadventures along the way – sleeping in a car she breaks into, threats from a pimp, a car crash, an arrest. Her affluent, suburban dad (Brendan Fraser) has two kids, a gorgeous French wife (Stephanie Szostak) and enough guilt to take her in. But the wife won’t stand for it.
Hudgens seems to revel in playing Apple, a hostile, ill-mannered and impulsive Every Teen – not at all the sort of girl you’d want around if you’re worried about your own children. The character attracts violence and seems capable of it, too. And she is just clueless.
Where can she go, who is left to turn to? Her mother, wanting that extra welfare check, is tracking her down. As street-savvy as this sullen, standoffish girl is, she’s in way over her head here.
“Gimme Shelter” has many of the hallmarks of a faith-based film, the ways it lays out Apple’s dilemma, the grim details of her life that Hudgens milks for all they’re worth, the people of faith who offer her hope and her resistance to their ministry.
A priest (James Earl Jones) and a shelter run by the understanding but no-nonsense Kathy (Ann Dowd of “Side Effects” and “Compliance”) offer Apple sanctuary. Does she have the good sense to take it, or will she bring the problems of her world crashing into theirs?
Writer-director Ron Krauss embraces the grit but fails to find much that surprises here. He attracted a good cast, and Hudgens, hell-bent on leaving her Disney “High School Musical” image behind, dives into the street language and angry, downcast look of a defiant girl who doesn’t know how little she knows about how bad things are and how much worse they could get. With this film, following “Sucker Punch,” “Spring Breakers” and “The Frozen Ground” (she played a young hooker in that one), Hudgens has had a lot of practice dressing down and exploring the ugly side of life.
A better film would have made more of the dilemmas, been more honest with the many dead ends facing Apple. This shelter doesn’t seem to do much other than house pregnant girls – no schooling, vocational training, state assistance.
It’s the sort of movie whose finale leaves you wondering, “Why do they always leave out what happens next?”
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