If you want to get a feeling for what kind of a movie “Gimme Shelter” is, go watch the trailer. In those two and a half minutes, you’ll learn just about everything you need to know.
Despite being based on an uplifting true story, “Gimme Shelter” ultimately never becomes much more than a formulaic feel-good story about a girl’s journey from poverty to motherhood, with some heavy-handed moralizing thrown in for good measure.
The film focuses on Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), a pregnant and world-weary teenager forced onto the streets in order to flee the abuse of her drug-addicted mother June (Rosario Dawson). After attempting to reconnect with her lost father, rich Wall Street banker Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser), Apple eventually find her way to a woman’s shelter where, after a bit of tough love, she turns her life around.
If the story sounds conventional or straightforward, that’s because it is. Though it’s based on a true story, director Ron Krauss’s film never strays from its path toward Apple’s eventual “salvation,” leaving the viewer with little to interest them in the meantime. The few moments of genuine tension and conflict—Apple’s time on the streets, for example, or her efforts to elude her increasingly dangerous mother—are rushed through, as if Krauss was worried that his audience might not be able to stomach the harsh reality of teen homelessness.
Hudgens’s treatment of her character is sure to win her some accolades and undoubtedly marks a turning point—if last year’s “Spring Breakers” wasn’t enough of one—for her career. With her eyes constantly red-rimmed and her face grimy and smudged, the young actress looks nothing like her standard, family-friendly self; she slouches through dark urban streets looking half-horrified and furious, and never allows the character’s gritty exterior to fully obscure the frightened teenager underneath.
Unfortunately, Apple constantly spouts monologues that feel overdramatic and canned. Very rarely does Apple’s character feel any different than the angry and confused foster girl trope we’ve come to expect. That being said, there are a few scenes that shrugged off the film’s safety net and actually achieved genuine human emotion without becoming eye-rollingly sentimental.
Apple’s conversation with her mother in the hospital, for example—after, perhaps disingenuously, painting Apple’s mother as a welfare-dependent deviant—is difficult to watch and respectfully conscious of both characters’ humanity. Unfortunately, Krauss immediately steers us back from these moments towards safer waters, and Apple’s safety from there on out is pretty much assured.
“Gimme Shelter” is catered to a very specific audience, and it will no doubt be a success for those who agree with its values. It is, first and foremost, a very conservative film about the responsibilities that come with motherhood and the importance of community and religion in helping people take control of their lives. In a time when Congress is cutting unemployment benefits and we continue to blame the poor for their own poverty, audiences have been delivered yet another film that—albeit subtly—presents the issues of drug abuse and life on the streets as a product of distance from faith and family.
If this kind of message appeals to you, or if you are simply a sucker for safe films with happy endings, “Gimme Shelter” is worth your cash.