Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gimme Shelter [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (D+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing

CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
EWTN interview with Director Ron Krauss / Kathy DiFiore
National Catholic Register (D.M. Cooper-O'Boyle) review
National Catholic Reporter (R. Pacatte) review

ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Gimme Shelter [2013] (written and directed by Ron Krauss) is an extremely well-written and well-acted film "based on true events" about a 15-year old teenager named Agnes/Apple (played magnificently by Vanessa Hudgens) who runs away from her drug addicted mother (played again magnificently by Rosario Dawson) in search of her suburbanite father Tom Fitzpatrick (played with appropriate initial cluelessness by Brendan Fraser) who she had never met.

When she arrives at his home (all she has is an old envelope and an address) the housekeeper calls the police on her.  Fortunately, as the police are cuffing her, Tom arrives with Joanne, his wife (played again quite credibly by Stephanie Szostak) and two small kids.  With a pierced nose and a pierced lip and a "hairstyle" looking just like it was (cut short by her own hand looking in a mirror -- we saw her cutting her hair in the film's initial scene) Agnes/Apple looks utterly out-of-place out there in some upscale New Jersey suburb outside of the New York where she had been born and had lived all her life previously.  But she protests her innocence and her reason for being there (and she has the envelope with her ...).  So mild-mannered Tom and confused (and perhaps even a bit angry) but well-mannered Joanne eventually tell the police that "It's okay" that they'll "handle things from here."  And they take her -- along with their two other kids, who had watched the whole incident with mouths gaping wide open from their parents' car -- into their stately upscale suburban home, large enough to require the housekeeper who had initially called the cops.

What now?  Well ... while unclear, it would seem that Tom had some now urgent autobiographical details about his life to tell his rather blindsided wife, either that or "Well you know how I told you when we first met that ... well ..." Either way, that conversation that takes place off screen must not have been easy.  And even if Joanne would have wanted to beat her husband senseless with a shovel now, they still had a scared 15-year-old in their house now, who except for the biographical detail that she was Tom's daughter, they knew absolutely nothing about.

What to do?  Well, dinner was awkward.  Thankfully, Tom and Joanne dismiss their younger children from the table when they begin to ask childish, inappropriate questions of "Apple" (which they find to be an "odd" name) as one _could_ expect young children confronted with a situation _way outside_ their previous (and necessarily limited) range of experience.  Hearing her tale of abuse and having been passed on from one foster home to another, Tom and Joanne decide to let her spend the night.

The next morning Agnes/Apple has another surprise.  She throws up (one gets the sense that she herself didn't know that she was pregnant).  Well, keeping her composure, Joanne takes Apple to a clinic (while Tom heads off to his Wall Street job) where it's confirmed.

The next day, it's Tom's task to sit down with Agnes/Apple to tell her what he and Joanne have decided to do with her.  Joanne had drawn the line -- "I'm not going to have a 15 year old that I do not know have a child in my house." -- Tom tells Apple that Joanne has made an appointment for her at the clinic for an abortion, that she'll even go with her, to hold her hand through it all, but that simply "this page must be turned" before ALL their lives "return to normal."  Agnes, a cauldron of so many levels of anger that one honestly would have trouble listing them all here, responds, "Oh yes, 'turn the page,' just like YOU 'turned the page' ON ME."  Still what's she gonna do?  She reluctantly goes with Joanne to the abortion clinic to "make this go away."

But ... of course, she finds THAT SHE SIMPLY CAN'T GO THROUGH WITH IT.  She's SOOO ANGRY at SOOO MANY PEOPLE.  And yet she HAS A PHOTO of the ONLY UTTERLY INNOCENT PERSON IN THE ENTIRE SITUATION (an ultrasound of her unborn baby).  And so she can't do it.  She runs out and away from the abortion clinic.  To where?  She doesn't have a clue ... BUT AWAY.  (Joanne, pointedly DOESN'T go out to "LOOK FOR HER...").

Wandering in a stew of confusion, Agnes/Apple, she gets stopped by a would be pimp, and with some gumption, she actually STEALS HIS CAR.  But she's a 15 year old "from the hood" so she CAN'T DRIVE.  Some 15-20 seconds into her getaway, she SMASHES the car into something ... and wakes-up HANDCUFFED to a hospital bed somewhere in presumably Newark, New Jersey.

It's actually HERE that her story BEGINS TO CHANGE for the better.  The first person she sees when she wakes up is a kindly EXPLICITLY CATHOLIC CHAPLAIN Fr. Frank McCarthy (played dead-on by James Earl Jones) who SLOWLY, over several days, is able to calm her down.  And he gets her into a home for unwed mothers run by Kathy DiFiore (played in the film again, dead-on precision, by Ann Dowd).

The rest of the film still follows and there are a lot of loose-ends that still need to be resolved, the main among them are that Agnes/Apple is 15-years-old and has parents.  One may be struggling with drug addiction and the other may have been completely absent and still generally clueless.  But despite that, they still have rights over her.  So there's still a lot here that needs to play out.

My ONLY, ONLY, ONLY CRITICISM of this otherwise EXTREMELY WELL WRITTEN AND WELL ACTED FILM is that the actual Agnes/Apple on which the film was based was WHITE, while AS GOOD AS Hudgens' and Dawson's performances were in the film, they are both people of color (while suburban Tom and his wife are white) resulting in the film playing itself out in a direction that reinforces stereotypes that would not have been present if the film-makers had just stayed with the original story where EVERYONE in the story was white.

That aside, I agree COMPLETELY with the critics that have written that if there was ANY DOUBT that Vanessa Hudgens could act, she proves here that she can.  And it was a gutsy decision on her part to play in a self-evidently pro-Life film.  Good job Vanessa!

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