To emphasize the gravity of Gimme Shelter, the opening credits state that it is “based on a true story.” Then, the words “a true story” linger on the screen. So, no need to worry — you won’t forget for a second how serious this grossly manipulative new movie is.
Gimme Shelter is an awkward mix of cautionary tale and after-school TV special, combining elements of each for a lumpy experience. Writer-director Ron Krauss ends up delivering several — at times contradictory — messages in telling the story of Apple (Vanessa Hudgens), nee Agnes, a 16-year-old runaway who is also unknowingly pregnant.
When Krauss introduces Apple, she seems to be surviving somehow in awful places. Krauss provides a series of scenes and images of Apple as she flees several of these abusive and even dangerous situations. She reveals only enough of herself for us to see she is stubborn, surly, and not prone to take orders from anyone.
After escaping several of these clumsily orchestrated crises, she ends up at the plush New Jersey home of her long-absent father, Tom (Brendan Fraser), a Wall Street executive. Remarried with two young children of his own, he unsuccessfully tries to bring Apple into his household.
She subsequently survives a car crash, learns of her pregnancy, and then, through the assistance of a stereotypically kind priest (James Earl Jones), lands in a home for teen mothers. In the interim, her own drug-addled mother, June (Rosario Dawson), screams histrionically about taking Apple back home.
Until late in the narrative, Apple remains mostly a one-note character. Even after she enters the home and intermingles with girls her own age, she stays cantankerous. But the presence of seemingly caring strangers obviously works its magic because, eventually, Apple faces up to her situation and handles it somewhat admirably.
Despite its “true story” status, Gimme Shelter continuously traffics in overly melodramatic elements. Finally, the resolution comes as easily, as does the all-around forgiveness.
The films ends predictably as the manipulative, sappy morality play it is, with maudlin ending credits of photos of the real Apple, her child and the friends she made at the mothers’ home. How sweet indeed.
Rated PG-13, 101 minutes.
Opens Friday at regional theaters.