Not recommending “Gimme Shelter” feels about as low as kicking a lost puppy. The film’s heart is definitely in the right place. All writer/director Ron Krauss wishes to do is uplift audiences with an inspiring true story. If it were being graded on good intentions alone, “Gimme Shelter” would be an A+ movie for sure. On an overall filmmaking level, though, it’s more of a C+ movie.
Vanessa Hudgens is Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant 16-year-old with tattoos, piercings, bad table manners, and the haircut of Justin Bieber on a bender. Unable to take any more abuse from her junkie mother (Rosario Dawson), Apple decides to finally make a break for it. She seeks out her estranged, wealthy father, played by Brendan Fraser, who lives in a mansion with his wife and two little children. Apple’s father and disinclined stepmother agree to let her stay on the condition she gets an abortion. When she refuses to part with the baby, Apple runs away again and finds sanctuary in a home for young, homeless mothers.
Much like Miley Cyrus, Hudgens is trying to show people that she’s no longer a Disney girl and has matured into a woman. She does a decent job in “Gimme Shelter,” although at times struggles with her street punk accent. The film also includes good work from James Earl Jones as a chaplain who looks after Apple and Kathy DiFiore as the woman who runs the shelter. The high point of the film is Dawson’s performance. Dawson, who’s always been an underrated talent, nails it as a selfish, reprehensible witch who solely sees her daughter and unborn granddaughter as a means of getting more welfare.
This story of a pregnant teen who is tortured by her mother and finds refuge in strangers is reminiscent of “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.” While “Precious” wasn’t the easiest film to watch, it worked thanks to the powerful direction, daring performances, and the audacity to confront its uncomfortable subject matter head-on. “Gimme Shelter” is much more restrained and reliant on rushed, easy emotional payoffs, giving it the feel of a subpar Lifetime original movie.
The film’s major downfall is in the character development. Everyone in the picture is either one-dimensional, underdeveloped, or turns on a dime at the last second. Krauss’ script can be awkwardly structured at times, too. There’s a bit of a complicated subplot involving drug money that goes nowhere. Main characters come and go without much explanation. The major conflict is actually pretty much resolved an hour in, letting the plot run on autopilot for the next hour.
“Gimme Shelter” is a well-meaning little movie with just too many flaws to be a successful piece of storytelling. It doesn’t really do or say anything new nor does it do anything old particularly well. That being said, there are plenty of struggling, young mothers out there who might identity with Apple and find some comfort in the film’s message. Then at the very least, something good can come from a film that isn’t especially good.
• Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.