'Gimme Shelter' a Christian rescue tale disguised as social realism
Former Mouseketeer Vanessa Hudgens is so accomplished as a Hollywood cutie pie, she makes a surreal, and not uncomic, sight in the grunge-tramp makeup, art-brut hairdo, facial piercings, and homeless-urchinwear she sports in Gimme Shelter, a happy-smiley Christian fairy tale disguised as a hard-hitting shard of social realism.
Writer-director Ron Krauss no doubt had good intentions in making this little disaster about an abused teenager who goes in search of Daddy, finds hardship so hard that it's harder than hard, but eventually is rescued by a priest, a copy of the Bible, and a shelter run by a kindly do-gooder.
It's just difficult to take the 25-year-old Hudgens seriously. She plays 16-year-old down-and-out and pregnant drug fiend Agnes "Apple" Bailey. (Apple? Is she named after Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter? And what did poor Paltrow ever do to Krauss?) Hudgens' acting consists mainly of long stretches of scowling interrupted by tears followed by more scowling supplemented by weeping.
Apple's abusive drug-addict mom, June (Rosario Dawson), is a wreck so seriously dope-addled that her teeth are super-icky yellow.
Things are so bad chez les Bailey that mother and daughter have a knockdown, drag-out, bare-knuckle fistfight.
Apple takes off in search of her father, a rich Wall Street toff with a nice New Jersey manse furnished with a nice wife and two nice kids.
Brendan Fraser does a good job as Dad, with just the right mix of concern, disgust, and half-sleazy curiosity about his feral offspring. He agrees to take Apple in for a few days, and even enjoins his snooty wife (Stephanie Szostak) to be kind to the smelly stray.
Things turn ugly when the yuppie couple insist Apple have an abortion. She runs away, crashing a car and ending up in a hospital. Lucky for her, and all of us, the in-house chaplain is James Earl Jones. (Who wouldn't want to be saved by that dude?)
The filmmakers finally have shown their hand - and brought out their big Christocentric guns.
With Jones to guide her, Apple finds solace and sustenance - physical and spiritual - in a shelter for pregnant teens run by the kindly Kathy (Ann Dowd), herself a recovering teenager.
Gimme Shelter is billed as a true story. That's stretching it a bit: Jones' character is based on real-life priest Frank McCarthy, and Kathy on his fellow shepherd of lost souls Kathy DiFiore, the celebrated founder of Several Sources Shelters. And the characters and plot are purportedly based on the stories of real teens DiFiore has helped.
Good intentions do not a good movie make. Especially when they are so evidently partisan - Christian, conservative, and stridently pro-life.
At one point, McCarthy proudly enjoins Apple to take a look at photos displayed at the shelter. They show Kathy posing with international heavyweights, including Mother Teresa and - wait for it - Ronald Reagan.
Beware Gimme Shelter, brothers and sisters. It's a saccharine sandwich that's hard to swallow.