In director Ronald Krauss’ “Gimme Shelter,” a pregnant 16-year-old flees her down-and-out abusive mother and rich, abortion-pushing father to find salvation in a home for unwed mothers. Whenever the film concentrates on the teen’s interactions with the various authority figures who successively betray her, it remains relatively compelling, thanks largely to Vanessa Hudgens’ standout perf. But once she is rescued by a priest and taken to a shelter, the film is hamstrung by its fidelity to real-life inspirational models. Delivered by a name cast (Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, James Earl Jones), the pic’s pointedly pro-life message should attract like-minded auds.
After furiously shearing off her long hair and escaping the clawing embrace of her drugged-out mother (Rosario Dawson, extremely convincing), Apple (Hudgens) makes her way to the palatial New Jersey digs of the father she never met, thrown to the ground twice en route — once by an irate cabbie, once by the cops. Once there, she encounters her wary Wall Streeter dad (Brendan Fraser), not quite sure what to do with his defiant daughter, and his wife (Stephanie Szostak), appalled by the intrusion of this uncouth interloper into their immaculate, well-ordered existence. Upon discovering that she’s pregnant (“Where is the father, in jail?” she sweetly inquires), Apple is driven to an abortion clinic from which she then escapes, clutching a sonogram likeness of her unborn child.
Homeless and wandering the streets (where she narrowly evades the snares of a thuggish pimp by stealing and crashing his car), she is eventually saved by a clerical James Earl Jones and taken to a shelter. There her initial distrust and hostility dissolve under the care of Kathy (Ann Dowd), the stern-but-caring founder of the shelter (a role patterned after pro-lifer Kathy DiFiore, who appears in the pic’s end credits), and the female bonding she experiences with other teenage members of the baby-spawning community.
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An air of innocuous innocence blankets the shelter; the girls’ transgressions take the form of flashlight-lit hunts among racks of donated clothing and stacks of official files. The one cynical misfit in the bunch (Emily Meade) leaves in a huff. Babies rain down on beaming girls like benedictions, though the presence of real teen inhabitants of a DiFiore home keeps the film somewhat grounded.
Except for Dawson, who serially pops up as a frightening example of unnatural, un-Christian motherhood-with-rights, Krauss never completely demonizes the secular villains of his piece, portrayed more as victims of circumstance than as inherently evil. Fraser’s secular rationality initially reads as coldness, but he and his family miraculously become converted to loving acceptance (the sudden transformation reading almost like parody), assuring Apple of a caring, affluent environment (including a house of her own right next to Fraser’s mansion) upon her departure from the shelter.
Alain Marcoen’s lensing and Olafur Arnalds’ music tend toward the conventionally sentimental, while enabling the film’s conservative ethos of a Menacing Outside World vs. a Comforting World Within.