Mark Reviews Movies

Gimme Shelter (2014)


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ronald Krauss

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Stephanie Szostak, James Earl Jones, Emily Meade, Ann Dowd

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language - all concerning teens)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 1/24/14 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 24, 2014

At least Gimme Shelter does not succumb to the sin-followed-by-punishment ideology of a morality play. That's not to say it doesn't skirt the line with its cautionary-tale setup of a pregnant teenager who must confront homelessness, an atrocious excuse for a mother, an absentee father, her own stubbornness, and a world that is far too eager to throw obstacle after obstacle in her path.

These aren't punishments, though. The movie, written and directed by Ronald Krauss, treats the subject of teen pregnancy without judgment or sanctimony. It is a simple matter of fact that this teenage girl gets pregnant (That it's after her first time having sex, of course, is another piece of information that might make one think the movie could possess an afterschool-special mentality) and has little idea how to handle the situation. Most of the aforementioned conflicts might have contributed to that situation, but they are not some kind of karmic retribution.

All of this is really just to say that the movie's problem is not in black-and-white morality (although it undoubtedly exists here, leading to some curious lapses in decision-making on the part of the characters) but in monochromatic drama. As evidence, one need only note that the movie offers one event as the solution to the myriad of conflicts the protagonist faces.

She's Agnes Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens), who prefers to be called "Apple" because that's the name her father unofficially gave to her before he abandoned her and her mother June (Rosario Dawson), and at the start of the movie, she is preparing to run away from a cesspool of a home in a rundown apartment complex full of poor, unfortunate souls at or on the way to rock bottom. Her destination is the mansion of her father Tom (Brendan Fraser), a wealthy Wall Street employee (What he does is unimportant; it's only important that he has money) who has a wife (Stephanie Szostak) and two other children. After almost going to jail for trespassing (not the last misunderstanding with which she will deal), Apple tells her father that she only needs a place to stay until she can get on her feet.

Soon after, Apple learns she's pregnant based on the suspicions of Tom's wife, who tries to get rid of Apple, lies about it, and attempts to force the girl to terminate the pregnancy against Apple's will (The movie, oddly, doesn't even mention the word "adoption," though, disturbingly, it does make the concept of "outsiders" raising one's child seem like a bad idea through Apple's experiences with foster families), and she doesn't even end up on the other side of an angry look from Tom for any of her actions. That, of course, would make things too easy for Apple, who has to suffer—not as penance but as a way to show how good things can be if only she accepts a certain kind of help from certain kinds of people. Until then, she has to eat out dumpsters, sleep in an unlocked car, and get into a serious car crash while fleeing from a complete stranger who tries to kidnap her.

We think we might have a grip of the movie's agenda with the introduction of a friendly priest played by James Earl Jones, and while religion is certainly part of that agenda, it's not the primary goal (To Krauss' credit, the actual depiction of religion here is respectful and without the air of proselytization). That comes when Apple arrives at a shelter for pregnant teenagers run by Kathy (Ann Dowd). It's at this point that we recall the movie's opening assurance that this is "based on a true story" and start to have a sinking suspicion about the way everything that comes beforehand is so blatant in its depiction of misery.

Once Apple arrives in the warm and friendly and but still orderly environment and protection of the shelter, her life and personality instantly do a complete turnaround. Sure, she still briefly has to deal with her razor-blade-toting mother and another ward tempting her to leave, but Apple overcomes every single conflict the screenplay raises—and immediately drops, whether or not they've actually been resolved—solely through the virtues of being in the care of a private charity (which, by the way, has its name and website listed in the credits), a few lengthy monologues, and the convenient winning of the genetic lottery.

There's no reason to believe Krauss' heart isn't in the right place, but Gimme Shelter comes across as more of a heavy-handed fundraising tool than a convincing narrative. It's a pledge drive, not drama.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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