The story behind this Afternoon TV Special disguised as a real movie is Vanessa Hudgens. That’s right. The Disney cutie who costarred with then boyfriend Zac Efron in countless High School Musical romps and made her bones as a big girl (hell, she’s 25) acting slutty and trippy in Spring Breakers, has now followed the path of many ingénues before her to prove she can act. In Gimme Shelter, Hudgens deglams with a vengeance. (Hell, Charlize Theron won an Oscar for doing just that in Monster). But Hudgens is no monster in this movie. As 16-year-old Agnes “Apple” Bailey, she’s a pierced, pocked and pregnant runaway who just wants to be loved. To show Apple is a tough cookie, Hudgens gained 15 pounds, chopped her hair, wore lip rings and perfected looking all sullen and shit. Her performance won’t have the Academy calling, but it’s a decent try at authenticity.
Can’t say the same for the movie. After a few tense scenes showing Apple escaping the clutches of her junkie mom (the reliably terrific Rosario Dawson), she sets out to find the Wall Street dad (Brendan Fraser) who forgot about her to do the suburbs thing with a ice-queen wife (Stephanie Szostak) and two legit kiddies. He wants to help but Apple is, well, inconvenient.
This is the cue for writer-director Ronald Krauss to marshall a collection of clichés that soon turns into a parade. Cornball this shameless has to have an excuse, so Krauss drags out the truth card. The shelter where Apple runs for cover is the real thing. It’s run by Kathy DiFiore, played by Anne Dowd (Compliance), a homeless mom herself until she decided to do something about it. Commendable action, to be sure. But Krauss, who researched his film on sight – we see a photo of DiFiore with Mother Theresa and Ronald Reagan – paints with a broad Hollywood brush. Add this to James Earl Jones droning on a Bible-quoting chaplain with a faith that leaves no room for abortion as an option and Gimme Shelter appears hijacked by the Christian right. Propaganda is a bitch to act. And this misguided movie leaves Hudgens buried in it.