The risqué though overwrought teenage drama Spring Breakers may have been a departure from the kind of wholesome, upbeat character we had been used to seeing Vanessa Hudgens portray, but it’s here in Gimme Shelter, the real life story of young Agnes ‘Apple’ Bailey, where she makes a genuine transformation. Even if the film quickly disappears, which I fear will probably be the case, you should remember Hudgens.
“I’m not scared, I can do this,” Apple says to herself as she furiously cuts her hair before escaping from a life that, to date has been one long nightmare. She’s a pregnant teen, though at this early point she’s unaware of her condition.
Apple has grown up with an abusive drug addict of a mother (Rosario Dawson) and has seen what that addiction can do. She desperately wants to break the shackles that have kept her in squalor all of her life, so she makes the decision to escape and find her father, who turns out to be a successful Wall Street broker (Brendan Fraser) with a family of his own.
“We want to help you,” says dad after Apple breaks into his security guarded home and reveals who she is. “But we don’t know how.”
It’s her father’s wife (Stephanie Szostak) who suddenly asks, “Are you pregnant?” Apple has no clue. “I don’t know,” she answers. “I only did it once.” A test reveals the truth. Apple is expecting.
After an episode at a clinic, Apple runs again, hitting the streets, breaking into cars, searching for food in dumpsters, until she meets Father McCarthy (James Earl Jones), a chaplain who offers tough love. “Where was God when I was suffering?” Apple wants to know. It’s through her chance meeting with the priest that Apple is introduced to a shelter for pregnant young women, run by Kathy (Ann Dowd). It’s only when decorating a Christmas tree with some of the other young girls at the shelter that we see Apple smile for the first time, perhaps for the first time in years.
It’s obvious from all involved that Gimme Shelter is a labor of love. Apple’s true story is clearly an inspirational tale that can be used as a motivational tool for others to follow. The Several Sources Shelters, the organization run by Kathy Di Fiore for young, pregnant women who have nowhere else to turn, are for real. The shelters are a place where director Ronald Kraus attended with the intention of making a documentary, but while there, sharing time and accounts with the young girls, he came across Apple’s story and decided that instead of documenting the events of the shelter it would be more effective to incorporate the actions into a feature length narrative. The end result comes with mixed feelings.
Apple’s story is an important one, and there’s no doubt that the film’s intentions are to be taken as more than just entertainment. The performances from all, particular Hudgens whose transformation is quite remarkable to the point of being almost unrecognizable, are uniformly good. Everyone involved appears to have approached the project with the earnest intention of contributing to something significant, but there’s also the continual nagging feeling throughout that maybe writer/director Krauss’ original intention of making a documentary about the shelters would have been ultimately the more effective approach.
Despite the quality of work and the serious intent of all, the film can’t escape the notion that we’re really watching an accomplished TV film of the week. It’s the kind of heartfelt project that serves its purpose best when used as a school project. Everyone can break off into discussion groups after a showing, which, after its short run on the big screen, is where it may ultimately find its biggest audience.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)