Thou shalt not invoke the Rolling Stones in the title of a movie that has virtually nothing to do with one of their signature songs.
That said, “Gimme Shelter” is otherwise a very good picture. Cogently written and powerfully acted, it’s a story about an outcast pregnant teen desperately seeking to survive in a world from which she feels all hope has fled.
The teen is played by “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens, whose transition from Disney sweetheart to something more raw and challenging continues apace, building from 2012’s way edgy “Spring Breakers” to last year’s way violent “Machete Kills” to this, which is way wrenching.
This time, in the role of a 16-year-old named Apple, Hudgens dives deep into the anguished depths of a character who is the daughter of an abusive mother (Rosario Dawson) and veteran of countless foster homes.
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Writer-director Ronald Krauss takes her through what amounts to a via dolorosa of homelessness and deprivation — run-ins with the cops, the importunings of a pimp, Dumpster diving, etc. — until a sympathetic hospital chaplain (James Earl Jones) takes her under his wing and guides her to a warm and welcoming shelter for unwed teen moms run by a woman (Ann Dowd) who was once herself homeless. The Dowd character is based on an actual woman who opened her home to pregnant girls in the manner shown in the picture. The shelter sequences, which come fairly late, are the picture’s justification for the title.
Krauss gets empathetic performances from Brendan Fraser, who plays Apple’s long-absent wealthy father, from Jones and from Dowd. But perhaps the most remarkable performance, after Hudgens’, is turned in by Dawson, who blends volatility with terrible despair as her character discloses to Apple that she, too, was abandoned and abused as a child. This mother understands only too well how her broken spirit has infected her kid, but she’s helpless to change the awful way she treats Apple — loving one instant, raging the next. In a heartbreaking movie, that’s the most heartbreaking element of all.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org