Movie review

Vanessa Hudgens stands out in 'Gimme Shelter,' but the movie loses its focus

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Inspired by real stories, "Gimme Shelter" is an earnest movie about a 16-year-old girl who musters the courage to leave her abusive, drug-addicted mother. She even manages to find the dad she never met, let alone knew.

But that's just the beginning; she's a long way from living happily ever after. It turns out Agnes "Apple" Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) is pregnant and unwilling to take the advice of her Wall Street executive father.

'Gimme Shelter'

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser, Rosario Dawson, James Earl Jones.

Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language -- all concerning teens.

"It's time that you turn the page on this. Put it all behind you, so you can move forward," Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser) counsels.

In other words, have an abortion.

Apple makes it to a clinic but bolts and lands back on the street, homeless, hungry, desperate and convinced that "God don't care about me." A kindly priest (James Earl Jones) tries to prove otherwise, introducing her to a woman who converted her residence into a shelter for pregnant teens with nowhere else to turn.

But Apple's mother will not relinquish her hold on her, her father is hovering on the margins, and Apple's roommate tempts with a plan to move out of the safe confines of the house in this movie allowing Ms. Hudgens to shake off the last vestiges of her "High School Musical" days.

True, she has been doing that with roles in releases such as "Spring Breakers" and "Sucker Punch." Here, though, she sheds any hint of glamour -- she chops her hair, wears no makeup and sports rings in her nose and lip, a tattoo flaring from her neck and a pregnant belly -- and it serves her well.

She gives herself a stony look, devoid of joy or optimism, speaks with a streetwise accent, cries on occasion with conviction and walks like a girl who hasn't had a break -- ever. "I am done being passed off as someone's case number!" she vows, recounting a miserable childhood of being shuffled through foster homes and case workers before circling back into her mother's neglectful care.

"Gimme Shelter," pointedly or coincidentally being released two days after the March for Life in Washington, D.C., is the sort of movie many adults and others say they want but don't always patronize.

It boasts name actors -- the cast also includes Rosario Dawson as Apple's troubled mother and Ann Dowd as the shelter founder -- but probably would have gone directly to DVD or cable without Ms. Hudgens. It's sort of like a daring TV movie ... from the 1980s.

Written and directed by Ron Krauss, "Gimme Shelter" seems sincere and well-meaning. He initially was inspired by meeting Kathy DiFiore, who was being honored at the United Nations for her work with teenage mothers. He then spent a year at one of her shelters, recording nearly 200 hours of interviews with the residents.

However, either due to a writing lapse or editing choice, Mr. Krauss allows a supporting character to undergo a change of heart by the end without showing how or why that happened. The screenplay never addresses whether any effort is made to get the young moms to finish their educations, move into apartments or jobs or, in the rarest of cases, re-establish contact with the babies' fathers.

Mr. Krauss seems determined to give the movie a fairy tale ending and he does -- twice, in fact. He also provides photos of the real people behind the movie, which brings the story home in a way that Hollywood actors never could.

Still, he gives Ms. Hudgens the chance to prove she is a 25-year-old of surprising depth, risk-taking and range.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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