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Gimme Shelter (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Good intentions, disappointing results."
2 stars

There was applause in the theater at the end of "Gimme Shelter", and even if I don't think it's a particularly impressive movie, I don't begrudge anybody that reaction. Who doesn't want to applaud a shelter that helps pregnant teenagers who feel like they have nowhere else to go? It would be nice if its story could be told in a way that seems less rote, but this is the movie it got, and it could have gone worse.

It starts out in Philadelphia, where 16-year-old Agnes "Apple" Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) has had enough of living with her mother June (Rosario Dawson), and it's hard to blame her; June is all drugs, alcohol, and violent mood swings. She manages to find her way to the father in New Jersey whom she had never met (Brendan Fraser), but she's obviously not an easy fit into Tom's life... And when Tom and his wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) discover she's pregnant, she's soon out on the street again and then in a hospital, where the pastor (James Earl Jones) can at least refer her to Kathy DiFiore (Ann Dowd), who runs Several Sources Shelters, a home for girls in Apple's situation.

Writer/director Ron Krauss makes absolutely sure that the viewer knows that Gimme Shelter is based on a true story, and that's often a sign that the filmmakers lack confidence in their work, whether they should or not. In this case, it often feels like Krauss is trying to excuse things that we wouldn't accept in a work of fiction, whether it be how Apple's parents are exactly calibrated to give her no place to go at the start but a potentially perfect happily ever after or an excuse to stop and quite literally preach about Kathy's mission. It may have been this way, but that doesn't prevent it from feeling oddly tidy when dramatized.

Something similar goes on with the cast; none of them are plalyng particularly complicated characters, although to be fair, real people aren't always full of subtext and story arcs, either. Still, while it's admirable that Vanessa Hudgens is doing pictures like this and Spring Breakers rather than just paper-thin high-school movies or romantic comedies, Apple seems a bit beyond her at times; there is not a lot of middle-ground between her as an angry runaway and the relieved girl finding a sisterhood in the shelter. The adults don't necessarily fare a whole lot better; Rosario Dawson and Brendan Fraser are both capable of handling more interesting parts than they are given here, and do well enough that I half-suspect that the times when they seem off are the result of trying to portray how Apple sees June and Tom and the movie not making that subjectivity clear. James Earl Jones and Stephanie Szostak do all right, as do the various younger actresses playing the other girls in the shelter. Ann Dowd gets stuck with a speech mostly meant to get Kathy's full story into the movie, but other than that, she does an impressive job of making Kathy down to Earth even as the movie is trying to paint her as a saint.

And the real Kathy DiFiore may be; for all that Gimme Shelter often seems simplistic or sloppy, there's no good argument against the subject matter being compelling or easy to invest in emotionally. No individual piece of Apple's story ever seems unbelievable, and if the group of girls at the shelter occasionally seem almost too uniformly well-adjusted, it's in service to Krauss's point that people in this situation need help more than judgment. Everything in the movie is just good enough to make an emotional connection, and if you see the big job as getting that across, strongly enough that some small percentage of the audience will do something to help rather than be a jerk in the future, it is hard to say it goes far wrong there.

So people applaud, and as much as I can point at this, that, and the other thing that the film could have done much better, I can neither mock them for that honest reaction or claim that I didn't share it to a point. There are much better movies on this topic, though, and they'd likely get an even more emotional reaction.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25766&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/27/14 20:00:14
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  24-Jan-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 29-Apr-2014


  DVD: 29-Apr-2014

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