Gimme Shelter (2013) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, some drug content, violence and language - all involving teens
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, James Earl Jones, Stephanie Szostak, Ann Dowd, Emily Meade, Dascha Polanco
Director: Ron Krauss
Screenplay: Ron Krauss
Review published January 26, 2014
Based on a true story (of the titular shelter and its founder, not the main character, who is an amalgam), Vanessa Hudgens (Spring Breakers, Machete Kills) masks her movie-star allure with extra weight, self-chopped hair, tats, piercings, and an edgy attitude in Gimme Shelter, the tale of a sixteen-year-old runaway named Agnes Bailey, who can't stand living any more with her abusive, drugged-out mother, June (Dawson, Eagle Eye), and journeys from the urban slums to find the biological father she never knew in a posh area of New Jersey. Dad, a wealthy Wall Street player named Tom Fitzpatrick (Fraser, The Nut Job), is more than a little surprised to see her, now using her new nickname of Apple, wanting to just give her money to go away, but ends up taking her into his lavish home where he lives with his wife (Szostak, Iron Man 3) and two kids until she can get back on her feet. However, it turns out that Apple is pregnant, and being a minor with no home, income, or ability to take care of an infant, it's either terminate the pregnancy or run away again, as the teenager must confront all of the pent-up feelings and desire to find a place to root herself with people who look out for her best interests.
Gimme Shelter is written and directed by Ronald Krauss (Alien Hunter, Rave), who reportedly spent a year going to a homeless shelter for teens to get the right tone for his piece, and delivers this occasionally mawkish tale with a distinct lack of judgmental attitude or overt moralization that makes it refreshing. Though some might read the film as having a conservative, religious or pro-Life bent, Krauss sidesteps such easy labels by merely presenting a situation in which a girl opts to keep her baby independent of the advice of others. She reluctantly (at first) allows others to kindly help her with the decision she has made to offer her some stability she has been missing her entire life, and if those people are conservatives or members of the religious community, so be it -- this is not a journey of a girl who finds strength in faith, but merely a common tale of a girl trying to find a stable home for herself and her child, and happens to do that though the assistance of a kindly hospital chaplain (Jones, Click) who directs her to a shelter run by a woman (Dowd, Side Effects) who offers assistance to unwed pregnant teenagers (based on Several Sources Shelter founder Kathy DiFiore), and whose personal tie-ins with, and belief in, the church allows for the necessary funding to keep the organization afloat.
It also doesn't paint the Fitzpatricks as people who are evil, either, even though they are pushing her toward the direction of abortion, which they see as doing her more good than harm in the end in terms of being able to start a new life rather than drown further into poverty and lack of opportunities. Krauss doesn't use this film as an opportunity to take an anti-abortion stance so much as to suggest that in a state in which a "right to choose" is an option, that this choice can also be life, and that doesn't always have to mean adoption for unwed mothers with no means of financial support. Given Agnes's terrible foster home experience, it's unlikely she would ever consent to that road anyway. What the film offers is another alternative for those in need that they may not have been aware of otherwise, namely, shelters.
The centerpiece of Gimme Shelter comes from Vanessa Hudgens' performance, and while she doesn't deliver anything that one might call an Oscar-worthy turn, it's probably her best acting performance to date. The moderately big-name cast chips in familiar faces, though with the exception of an unusually scary-looking Rosario Dawson, who delivers a real performance in full-on strung-out mode, none of them lend much to their roles save for making the film a bit more marketable. That Apple's mother only seems to want to keep her daughter around to collect a paycheck that she'll likely spend on the very things that make the home environment such a nightmare could be read as a subtle commentary that government handouts aren't as much of a solution as charity when it comes to helping people in dire need.
While Krauss's screenplay is a bit naive and obvious in parts (some might view this as material better suited to an "After School Special" than a major independent theatrical release) and his sometimes static direction doesn't always lend the narrative the kind of momentum it needs to truly compel emotionally, Gimme Shelter delivers an effective and unique enough story for those interested in seeing how a teenage girl without many options in life finds open doors of support in unlikely places.
©2014 Vince Leo