"Turn the page?! Forget about it?! Like you did with me?!?!"
"Where was God when I was suffering and abused all these years?"
In a way, it's a relief that Gimme Shelter is an all-around wretched film. Yes, those are real, actual lines from it that I've quoted above. They are delivered by the horribly miscast Vanessa Hudgens to a cold, wooden Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones, respectively. Just for good measure, Fraser and Jones are both poorly cast as well.
If it all wasn't such a terrible mess, I might have to fixate on the not-so-subtle awful message the film is sending, a jaunt that would veer in to the uncomfortable territory of religion and politics. As it is, there's plenty of ugly territory to cover.
Hudgens plays Apple Bailey, a deeply troubled teen who flees her abusive mother June (Rosario Dawson) in search of a father who was out of her and her mother's life before she was even born. Apple has been through the worst that our system has to offer. She has been in and out of foster homes and verbally, physically and sexually abused.
She finds her father (Fraser) through the return address on the only letter he ever sent her, a precious missive faded by the years that she seems to have been holding on to for the exact moment when she has nowhere to turn. And finding him reveals an appalling truth -- Fraser is a Wall Street banker with the kind of wealth to care for whole cast of Apples, even if none of them were his flesh and blood. On her best behavior, Apple is guarded. At her worst, she is uncontrollably angry -- prone to dishing out the kind of violence that has been visited upon her. And so the revelation that she is pregnant is not received well by anyone -- not by her as she struggles to survive or her father and his family.
Her father and his wife urge Apple to have an abortion, and it is at this point that the film pivots from a mere poorly written melodrama to a pro-life polemic. Apple busts out of the clinic at the last moment, ultrasound image of her unborn child in hand, and winds up in the hospital after a nasty car wreck. It is here that she meets Father Frank (Jones), who begins to repair some of the damage done to her over the years and winds up placing her in a shelter for pregnant teens.
There's nary a surprise to be had in this story or the way it is told -- emphasis on the word told. Writer and director Ron Krauss leans heavily on some laughably bad dialogue to get his message across.
Keep the child, ladies (or, in this case, girls). If someone with as little hope as Apple can find a way, then shouldn't you be able to too? Seem unrealistic? Well, how about bookending the film with overt reminders that these are real people and that this is all based on a true story.
Look, there's probably a terrific pro-life argument to be made through this medium. In fact, it might already have been made if you look only as far as Philomena and Juno. Whatever that argument is, Gimme Shelter doesn't make it -- "resolving" the film with an epiphany on Apple's part that rings completely hollow when you consider that she also wins the acceptance and immense financial support of her fantastically rich father.
Beyond the argument it is making, though, it is simply a lousy piece of art. Over and over again, Krauss commits the cardinal sin of telling and not showing. Do we really need Apple to verbally confirm that she is struggling with the very existence of God or that she feels betrayed by every adult in her life? Aren't her wretched surroundings -- her shabby, baggy clothes and her brown-toothed mother -- a strong enough hint? Don't all of those tightly focused shots of her face tell a story all by themselves?
Forget about the message it is sending. The construction of this story lacks any semblance of subtlety or artistry -- a fact that is just as damning as its nonsensical theme.