Gimme Shelter

“War, children, it’s just a shot away! It’s just a…” – wait. Okay, wrong one. Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser and Academy Award nominee James Earl Jones star in Gimme Shelter.

Gimme ShelterCast of Characters:
Agnes “Apple” Bailey – Vanessa Hudgens
Father McCarthy – James Earl Jones
June Bailey – Rosario Dawson
Joanna Fitzpatrick – Stephanie Szostak
Cassandra – Emily Mead
Kathy DiFiore – Ann Dowd
Tom Fitzpatrick – Brendan Fraser

Director – Ronald Krauss
Screenplay – Ronald Krauss
Producer – Ronald Krauss & Jeff Rice
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language – all concerning teens

Apple Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), having grown up with her drug addicted and abusive mother June (Rosario Dawson), decides one day to run away and find her biological father. She finds him in New Jersey, a wealthy Wall Street broker named Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser), who now has his own family. Seeing that she’s desperate for a place to stay, having been tossed around from shelter to shelter throughout her life, Tom lets her stay for a while. That changes when he discovers that Apple’s pregnant, and when she’s told by his unapproving wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak), that she’s not responsible enough to have the baby (a polite way of telling her to have an abortion), Apple runs out again.

After getting in a car accident and landing in a hospital, Apple is taken care of by hospital chaplain Father McCarthy (James Earl Jones), who recommends her to a nearby shelter for pregnant teens run by Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd). Complications arise in the situation, though, when Kathy is told that Apple’s mother refuses to give up custody.

This is the type of movie that, if you’ve seen the trailer or read a synopsis, you worry might be one of those Lifetime movies that yanks your heartstrings so hard that your heart gets ripped out with them. Troubled girl, abusive mother, shelters, and caseworkers – this might as well have been called Precious 2.

That said, I gotta say, I enjoyed this movie. Maybe my soda was spiked with Xanax and poppy pods and I was riding a super high, or maybe, like Precious it was just solid writing and a terrific cast that elevated what could’ve been another manipulative tearjerker.

Certainly, there are moments where things get played up a little bit more than they need to be and Vanessa Hudgens sometimes over-snarls her way through her lines. Yet, it’s another gutsy and gritty performance from her that shows me, after Spring Breakers and the flawed yet still terrifically performed The Frozen Ground, she’s only getting better. Would I like to see her mix it up a bit with her next films? Sure. I mean, eventually it’ll become a bit “we get the point” with these down and dirty type roles, but a good performance is a good performance regardless.

Plus, she could’ve given us her own Getaway, like her former fellow Disney tween queen Selena Gomez, but she didn’t. One of the wisest moves she’s made so far.

Almost unrecognizable is Rosario Dawson, in a memorable performance that’s quite a change of pace from the typically likeable characters she’s known to play. As Hudgens’s drug addicted mooch of a mother, Dawson is downright nasty. Of course, she wants her kid to have the baby. That way she can collect even more welfare from the government.

And the mother/grandmother of the year award goes to…

Although he’s mostly starred in dumb and obnoxious films (Encino Man, Dudley Do-Right, Monkeybone, two highly unnecessary Mummy sequels and that Furry Vengeance movie with the animals), once in a blue moon, Brendan Fraser shows us that he can give a genuine performance. He’s done it before in Gods and Monsters, Crash and The Quiet American, and he does so again here. It’s the type of role that could’ve been cliche – the rich father that doesn’t seem to care or understand – but the more the film plays on, the more we find out about the unfortunate circumstances that motivated him to make the decisions that he did.

Both James Earl Jones and Ann Dowd give two pleasant supporting performances as the stable influences that show up in Apple’s life. Most people, for obvious reasons, will forever link Darth Mufasa to the voice work that he’s done. Honestly, how can you not? The man is Darth Vader. That said, if you’ve ever seen The Great White Hope, Field of Dreams, his most memorable live-action role as Admiral James Greer in the first three Tom Clancy films, and even his small closing role in The Sandlot, Jones is great actor, and it was nice to see him back onscreen again.

While not a perfect script, writer/director Ronald Krauss delivers a solidly written film (that’s based on a true story) that touches on issues such as teen pregnancy, abuse, spirituality and faith. While this film does dabble in the formulaic trappings every now and then, I do credit Knauss for being able to deliver a film containing a heart and message that never gets overly preachy. Judging from the trailers that preceded this film, I should enjoy it while it lasts, ’cause they look like they’re gonna bludgeon me upside the head with their preaching hammer.

On paper, yes, this looks like it’d be some form of melodramatic crap you’d expect to find on Lifetime. However, Krauss’s writing and even more so, the standout performances elevate the “troubled teen girl finds hope” storyline we’ve definitely seen before. While not a film I expected to like, this managed to draw me in and Hudgens once again shows she’s an actress adding more to her productive film career.

I give Gimme Shelter a B+ (★★★).

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