Movie review: Homeless teen searches for sanctuary in 'Gimme Shelter'

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICEJanuary 24, 2014 

Vanessa Hudgens takes on the role of troubled teen in the faith-based drama “Gimme Shelter.”

  • GIMME SHELTER ••

    Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language concerning teens. Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser. Director: Ron Krauss. Running time: 100 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 22 in Boise and Edwards 14 in Nampa.

"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. And if she needs a case study in how life can go wrong by having a baby at that tender age, she can look at Mom - a raging, staggering, yellow-toothed horror in her early 30s.

But Apple, with no more warning than an "I'm OUT," runs away - fist-fighting her mother to get through the door and sets out in search of the father she's never met.

Hudgens seems to revel in playing Apple, a hostile, ill-mannered and impulsive Every Teen - not at all 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, who is left to turn to? Her mother, wanting that extra welfare check, is tracking her down. As street-savvy as this sullen, stand-offish girl is, she's in way over her head here.

A priest (James Earl Jones) and a shelter run by the understanding but no-nonsense Kathy (Ann Dowd) offer Apple sanctuary. Does she have the good sense to take it, or will she bring the problems of her world crashing into theirs?

Writer-director Ron Krauss embraces the grit but fails to find much that surprises here. He attracted a good cast, and Hudgens, hell-bent on leaving her Disney "High School Musical" image behind, dives into the street language and angry, downcast look of a defiant girl who doesn't know how little she knows about how bad things are and how much worse they could get.

A better film would have made more of the dilemmas, been more honest with the many dead ends facing Apple. This shelter doesn't seem to do much other than house pregnant girls - no schooling, vocational training, state assistance.

It's the sort of movie whose finale leaves you wondering, "Why do they always leave out what happens next?"

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