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
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 of 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
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
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 pretty 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?
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.
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All rights reserved. Posted: January 24, 2014.