Vanessa Hudgens makes an earnest bid to really be taken seriously as an actress in the based on a true story melodrama Gimme Shelter. She’s decent enough, committing to her role with a commendation worthy physical transformation, but the film itself never quite gets off the ground, at least enough to recommend it. Writer/director Ron Krauss obviously wants to inspire audiences and make the next Precious (though this one is obviously not based on the novel Push by Sapphire…sorry, couldn’t resist), and while the film does have a sporadically effective moment or two, it winds up mostly feeling like something you’d see on the Lifetime channel as opposed to a theatrical release. Hudgens does go all in with the role, but no one else in the cast really does, and considering that her co-stars include Rosario Dawson, Ann Dowd, Brendan Fraser, and James Earl Jones, that’s certainly a disappointment. My main issue here is that despite this being a true story, Krauss never makes it feel realistic. Sure, it’s gritty, but that’s not the same as being real. His intentions are pure, but the end result is a flawed movie that’s a mixed bag at best and a misfire at worst. Gimme Shelter could have been a solid, if unspectacular movie in better hands, but it wasn’t, so it isn’t.
The plot centers on a 16 year old girl named Agnes Bailey (Hudgens), though she likes to be called Apple. She’s got a pretty horrible home life, living in squalor with her neglectful junkie mother June (Dawson). When Apple finds out that she’s pregnant, she decides to leave the abusive June and try and give this baby a better chance than she had. Apple wants to find her deadbeat dad Tom Fitzpatrick (Fraser) and see if he can help her. He’s confused by her arrival, and considering he’s the rich Wall Street type living in suburban New Jersey, Apple sticks out like a sore thumb in his life. He does seem interested in doing something for her at last, but his wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) isn’t a fan of this and when she pushes for Apple to have an abortion, she takes off. Now on the streets, she winds up in the hospital, where a priest named Frank McCarthy (Jones) wants to help her. From there, she’s eventually accepted into a shelter run by Kathy DiFiore (Dowd) which could potentially be her savior. I won’t say what happens, but I think you all can guess.
I have to say, Vanessa Hudgens is the highlight of the movie for me. She really committed to the part with some weight gain and a completely different way of carrying herself, so while this isn’t the best performance out there, it’s arguably better than the final product deserved. Hudgens has some awkward moments here and there, but for the most part she hits the right notes for the character. The same can’t really be said for the rest of the cast though, who vary from bored to wasted. Rosario Dawson is the most under utilized, seemingly only in the film when something bad needs to happen to Apple. On the flip side, James Earl Jones only comes around when something good needs to happen. This got old for me quickly. Ann Dowd is wasted as well, while Brendan Fraser looks like he doesn’t want to be there at times. The rest of the cast includes the aforementioned Szostak as well as Emily Meade, Tashiana Washington, and others, but they didn’t leave much of an impact at all. It’s Hudgens who does the best work by far, it’s just not enough to save the film.
There was nothing in Ron Krauss’ filmography to initially suggest that he’d be able to handle this kind of subject matter, and while he certainly gave it a well intentioned shot, the movie just doesn’t work. His direction is too on the nose and his writing runs head first into whatever cliches he can find (a perfect example of both of his shortcomings is found during the final scenes, which I won’t spoil). Krauss did get that performance out of Hudgens, so I’m willing to call his filmmaking a work in progress still, but this is the type of flick that he probably should have waited a bit to attempt. I’m sure he envisioned it being an awards contender, but boy is it not. This is a below average indie drama at best.
I wanted to like Gimme Shelter, I really did, and Vanessa Hudgens definitely won me over here, but I found little else appealing. This is more a made for television melodrama than anything else. It’s still January, so you can obviously do worse in theaters, but considering this film’s higher aspirations, you can clearly do better when you hold it up to the current Oscar nominees still playing in cinemas around the country. Gimme Shelter has its heart in the right place, but sadly that just wasn’t enough.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!