“I am done with being passed off as someone’s case number. I want out of the system!” yells Agnes ‘Apple’ Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens). Apple’s a 16-year-old street runaway who’s desperate to find some kind of better life than living on the streets and in motels with her abusive, drug addicted, prostitute mother (Rosario Dawson) who’s grooming Apple to follow in her footsteps in the dramatic film Gimme Shelter.
Finally finding the courage to run away from her mother, Apple tracks down her birth father Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser) and pleads for him to let her stay with his family for a few days until she can figure something out. After a couple of days, Tom and his wife – who’s not pleased at all about this new living situation – realize Apple is pregnant. Not wanting the responsibility of a newborn and believing Apple is unable to take care of herself let alone a baby, they set up an appointment for Apple to have an abortion. But Apple doesn’t want to give up her baby and goes back out onto the streets and on the run again.
After getting into an accident and ending up at a hospital for a few minor injuries, Apple meets Father Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones) who tells her about a shelter for young pregnant women who have nowhere else to turn run. The shelter’s run by a friend of his who he would be happy to introduce Apple to. Her first reaction is to scream at the kind priest to get out and leave her alone, but then Apple realizes he might be the only one who actually can help her. A few days later she clumsily attempts to apologize and Father McCarthy interrupts her, saying, “Don’t ever apologize for expressing how you’re feeling.” The next day McCarthy takes Apple to his friend, Kathy (Ann Dowd), where her new life living at the shelter is about to begin…maybe.
Based on a true story and inspired by the real life work of Kathy DiFiore, Gimme Shelter is a gritty, tough film about young women trying to escape the horrors of living on the street and find something more. Vanessa Hudgens delivers a powerful, career-changing performance as Apple, the young runaway who’s desperate to find a new life and home for she and her unborn baby. It’s an emotional and intense portrayal which is sure to open up new roles for the young actress.
James Earl Jones is wonderful as Father Frank McCarthy, bringing just the right amount of care, warmth and charm to the role. The best scenes in the film feature he and Hudgens. Rosario Dawson is effective as Apple’s abusive and dangerous mother, but unfortunately delivers an over-the top performance overall. The scene in the hospital where she first begs and finally threatens Apple to be good and give her another chance feels forced.
The pacing of the film is uneven and slow and takes far too long to get started. The whole point of the movie is to show the work, care and hope the shelter provides for the runaway girls but the audience isn’t introduced to Kathy DiFiore until about halfway through the film. Especially tedious is the first third of the film, with scene after scene of Apple eating and stabbing at her food at her birth father’s house. It slows the picture down to a crawl.
Still, with such strong performances and a compelling story Gimme Shelter is a moving and engaging film that should not be missed.
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Professional film critic since 2003 and a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society. Host of “The Movie Guys” radio film review show from 2007 through 2013. Film and television critic for Showbizjunkies.com and a movie buff since 1973.
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