Former Disney star Vanessa Hudgens stars as an ill-mannered, pregnant, 16-year-old runaway in 'Gimme Shelter.' (Roadside Attractions)
“Gimme Shelter” is a simplistic, faintly emotional account of a pregnant teen’s desperate search for help, support and compassion with the huge decision she faces.
It’s simplistic because the script discounts debate over that decision and glosses over the messy details of the path she chooses. But it’s emotional because we, and plainly some of the characters, know those messy details, even if other characters do not.
Agnes (Vanessa Hudgens) is 16 and poor, the daughter of a drug addict (Rosario Dawson) who had her too young. Agnes, who decides she wants to be called “Apple,” is all piercings, ill-fitting dirty clothes and tattoos.
One day Apple, with no more warning than an “I’m OUT,” runs away — fistfighting her mother to get through the door. With just a little cash, the clothes on her back and a crumpled old envelope with an address on it, she sets out in search of the father she’s never met.
There are misadventures along the way — sleeping in a car she breaks into, threats from a pimp, a car crash, an arrest. Her affluent, suburban dad (Brendan Fraser) has two kids, a gorgeous French wife (Stephanie Szostak) and enough guilt to take her in. But the wife won’t stand for it.
Hudgens seems to revel in playing Apple, a hostile, ill-mannered and impulsive Every Teen — not the sort of girl you’d want around if you’re worried about your own children. The character attracts violence and seems capable of it, too. And she is just clueless.
Where can she go? Her mother, wanting that extra welfare check, is tracking her down.
“Gimme Shelter” has many of the hallmarks of a faith-based film, the ways it lays out Apple’s dilemma, the grim details of her life that Hudgens milks for all they’re worth, the people of faith who offer her hope and her resistance to their ministry.
A priest (James Earl Jones) and a shelter run by the understanding but no-nonsense Kathy (Ann Dowd of “Side Effects” and “Compliance”) offer Apple sanctuary. Will she bring the problems of her world crashing into theirs?
Writer-director Ron Krauss embraces the grit but fails to find surprises here. With this film, following “Sucker Punch,” “Spring Breakers” and “The Frozen Ground” (Hudgens played a young hooker in that one), she has had a lot of practice dressing down and exploring the ugly side of life.
A better film would have made more of the dilemmas and been more honest with the many dead ends facing Apple. It’s the sort of movie whose finale leaves you wondering, “Why do they always leave out what happens next?”
Rated PG-13 for mature subject matter involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language, all concerning teenagers
Running time: 100 minutes