Christian Movie Reviews - Family Friendly Entertainment

Unearned Ending Aside, Pro-Life Gimme Shelter Works

Unearned Ending Aside, Pro-Life <i>Gimme Shelter</i> Works

DVD Release Date: April 29, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: January 24, 2014
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language – all concerning teens.
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 101 minutes
Director: Ron Krauss
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones, Ann Dowd, Stephanie Szostak, Emily Meade, Dascha Polanco

It all began when writer/director Ron Krauss met Kathy DiFiore, who was being honored at the UN for her work with teenaged mothers. He went on to spend a year at one of her shelters, basing his screenplay on the lives of several of the teen mothers he met there. The girls even read the script as it was being written and "helped me find the reality of their lives," Krauss says. The result is not quite a documentary, but it has the gritty, realistic feel of one.

When we meet sixteen-year-old Agnes "Apple" Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens, High School Musical 3) she has finally found the courage to leave the drug-infested 'home' of her abusive mother. With almost no money and very little hope, Apple makes her way to the New Jersey mansion of her biological father (Brendan Fraser, Inkheart), a wealthy Wall Street executive. Apple and her dad have never had a relationship, but you've got to start somewhere, right?

It's not exactly the warm welcome of Apple's dreams. Tom's uptown wife and children don't know what to make of this unkempt, uncouth creature who has invaded their home. Things go from bad to worse when it’s revealed that Apple is pregnant. Clearly a girl who can't even take care of herself has no business having a baby; Tom encourages his daughter to "turn the page and forget it happened." Tom's wife coldly informs Apple the options are to have an abortion or leave their house (apparently neither parent considers giving the child up for adoption a viable option; their "pro-choice" stance actually offers Apple no choice at all).

When Apple decides to defy the adults and keep her baby, she's pretty much out of options... until a series of events introduces her to Father McCarthy (James Earl Jones, The Lion King). A true man of God, this kind, compassionate priest helps Apple find a home in a suburban shelter for girls in similar situations. The question is, with her background and collection of issues with authority, trust and more, will Apple be able to handle the shelter's rules? And what will happen when her mother shows up?

Hudgens leaves her High School Musical persona far behind to portray the tough, angry, wounded Apple. Her shambling gait and hunched shoulders, her wary eyes peering out from behind a tangle of hair, the way she hides in her oversized clothes, even the underfed Apple's table manners (or lack thereof) all paint a portrait of a girl who's grown up unloved and unwanted. Her truly horrible mother (Rosario Dawson, Seven Pounds) is all sharp edges, a direct contrast with the soft-spoken but firm Kathy (Ann Dowd, The Informant!).

It was all going so well until the very end, when this unflinching, realistic film suddenly turned into a Lifetime movie complete with an ending tied in a pretty little bow. While Tom is basically a decent guy (his views on abortion notwithstanding), his family's sudden change of heart comes from out of the blue. But even stranger was Apple's final speech. While it's to be expected that she would undergo a transformation through her experience, the girl who previously communicated in monosyllabic grunts and Rocky Balboa-esque mumbles suddenly morphs into a poised, well-spoken, accent-free young woman - not the most common after effect of childbirth, surely? These inconsistencies don't completely ruin the story or the message, but do make the experience of watching the film decidedly odd.

Still, it is only by the power of God and the love of his people that girls like Apple will be able to escape their pasts and find the shelter they so desperately need. One of the most heart-wrenching moments in the film is when the girls in the shelter break into the office to read their files. One by one they acknowledge the truth of their labels: Abused. Raped. Runaway. In the end, because of the hope these young women are given to change those identities, Gimme Shelter overcomes its too-neat finale to stand as a powerful film.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Both are prevalent, especially in the beginning when Apple makes her escape from what appears to be a crack house, a brothel, or a combination of both.
  • Language/Profanity: All the usual suspects make an appearance: da**, sh**, bi***, slu*, a**, OMG, and possibly a few more that were missed due to mushy delivery.
  • Sex/Nudity: Apple's mother is either a prostitute or just dresses like one in tight, revealing clothing. There's a sharp conversation about teen pregnancy, which is the main focus of the film. A teen takes a pregnancy test and later visits to the doctor for ultrasound and an abortion clinic. The shelter is full of pregnant, unwed teens.
  • Violence: An abusive parent slaps, beats, kicks, screams at, attacks with a knife, and shows their true feelings for a child in other similar ways. A disgruntled cab driver dumps a teen out on a busy street. A predator tries to entice a girl into his car then later curses at her and chases her down the street. A car crash comes out of nowhere, making the audience jump. Harsh language, restraint by police, and other unpleasant realities of life on the street are shown.

Publication date: January 24, 2014