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Gimme Shelter (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

Gimme Shelter


Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones, Ann Dowd, Stephanie Szostak, Dascha Polanco, Emily Meade, Candace Smith, Tashiana Washington, Laneya Wiles, Rachel Mattila, Rufus Dorsey, Eddie Schweighardt, Sheila Tapia and Peter Epstein.

Screenplay by Ron Krauss.

Directed by Ron Krauss.

Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A few months ago I was reading about the fact that Rick Santorum – evangelical Christian and mega-conservative politician who came in second for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination – was starting a new film company to create religious "family-friendly" films. The first of those, The Christmas Candle, blew out with barely a flutter over the holiday season. The few reviews that film received pointed out the film's heavy-handed moralizing.

About a half hour into the press screening of Gimme Shelter, I suddenly had a weird feeling: Oh shit, I'm at another Rick Santorum movie. The more I watched, the more I was sure that was the case. Turns out Santorum had nothing to do with the movie. But he may as well have.

Gimme Shelter is sort of like getting stuck at an almost two-hour-long evangelical pro-life rally, complete with sermonizing, lots of cute babies, random bible passages, the vilification of "welfare queens" and even gratuitous references to Ronald Reagan. If they only added some gun rights arguments and a confederate flag, I would swear it was made by the Tea Party.

Kind of a weird place to end up in a movie which blatantly steals its title from an old Rolling Stones song.

Is Gimme Shelter a bad movie? Not really, but it is not a good film either. It is well filmed; the acting is mostly good and some of the action is gripping. Still, it is a screenplay at service of a cause, not a storyline. It is working so hard to convince us that every little life is sacred that it never quite bothers to show us realistic, complicated adult lives.

A title scrawl at the beginning assures us that Gimme Shelter is "based on a true story" of Agnes "Apple" Bailey. I suppose it is nice that it's a true story, though I'm not going to lie, I'm not sure why Apple's story warrants filming. All she really does is escape from an abusive lifestyle and decide to keep her baby. Not to underestimate her accomplishment, but lots of people have done that.

Apple is played by former teen queen Vanessa Hudgens, all her High School Musical cute perkiness overshadowed by dirt, cuts, bruises, lack of makeup, facial piercings, and a really bad scissor-cut hairdo. We meet her in a run-down project apartment, where she hides in a bathroom, cuts off most of her hair and then makes a break to get away from her dirty, drug addled mom, who just wants Apple around so she can cash her welfare checks.

If Hudgens is brave in playing against type, Rosario Dawson really takes a huge risk by throwing herself into a character who is so pathetic and off-putting. She has stringy hair, bruises all over, a horrific temper and orange teeth. It's quite a transformation for such an attractive actress. Dawson is tough to recognize.

Apple tries to track down her father (Brendan Fraser), a man she has never met but who she knows lives in a McMansion in Jersey. The guy tries haltingly to help his daughter, but honestly, she's kind of impossible – obstinate, angry, and not even in the tiniest bit appreciative of his attempts to step up for her. However, when it turns out that Apple is pregnant, his wife makes the mistake of trying to get the 16-year-old homeless girl with no money to support a baby to get an abortion. Apple runs away and takes to the streets again.

An automobile crash introduces Apple to a kindly priest (played by a wasted James Earl Jones), who takes Apple to a shelter for pregnant teens run by his friend. You know right away that Kathy (Ann Dowd) must be saintly (in this film's viewpoint, anyway), because in her office she has lots of religious posters and pictures of herself with Mother Teresa and Ronald Reagan.

So will Apple find new purpose and a love of God in this home with her new roomies, all of whom are very pregnant or already have small babies? Will she get away from her desperately clinging and abusive mom? Will she ever make up with her long-lost dad? What do you think?

There is one girl at the home who does not fit in, so she moves out. I was certain Gimme Shelter would punish her for her wild ways, but instead it's like the film just forgot to close out her story. She just disappears. I'm fairly sure if the deleted scenes ever show up on the Blu-ray release, there will be a scene where that girl gets her cosmic comeuppance for wanting to drink, have sex and live her own life.

In fact, this film is so thoroughly repressed that every time one of the little babies in this movie (and there are lots of them) started to cry, the mothers fed them by bottle. What, is breast feeding sinful now?

Gimme Shelter has its heart in the right place, I would guess, and there is an audience for its story and its particular point of view. I don't even necessarily begrudge the movie its political slant. Lots of fine movies have strong opinions on life. I just wish that writer / director Ron Krauss remembered that the job of a movie is to entertain audiences, not just to convert them.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: January 24, 2014.

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