Normally, there would appear to be a world of difference between the phrases "good intentions" and "agenda", but in the case of a movie like Gimme Shelter, the two things are one and the same. I'm sure everyone involved with this movie had good intentions, and genuinely wanted to shine light on a social issue they found important. That doesn't change the fact that the film inevitably becomes a soapbox for that cause, and although being soapbox is not an inherently bad thing, it is almost always an obvious thing, and any film that wants to go there, even if the audience will be sympathetic to the cause, will have to be equally entertaining. Gimme Shelter is not entertaining, and aside from the entire playbook of teen melodrama cliches, all that remains is that cause, trumpeted loud and clear.
A related point: "agenda" doesn't have to refer to a political cause or a philosophical issue. It could also refer to the decision-making process that leads a former Disney star like Vanessa Hudgens to a role like Agnes "Apple" Bailey. Apple is angry at the world, evidenced as early as her introduction, in which she furiously chops her hair off with a giant pair of scissors, lunching toward her skull with each snip in a way that will set the audience on edge until she's finished. Once she's done, she barely manages to escape the clawing hands of her dearly damaged mother June (Rosario Dawson) and make her way out to the fancy, upper-class neighborhood where her estranged father, Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser) lives in a massive gated mansion with his more respectable family. Tom hardly gets a chance to react to her arrival before Apple discovers she's pregnant, setting off a chain reaction of events that land her in a youth shelter for pregnant teens.
Speaking with a thick "city" accent and glaring with dark-ringed eyes through perpetually greasy bangs, Apple is a frustrating character. Some of that is intentional, but contrived screenwriting and Hudgens' awkward line readings combine to make the whole experience as frustrating to watch as it is for Tom to experience. Of course, Tom's wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) doesn't like Apple, and tries to force her to get an abortion, which prompts Apple to run away. Frankly, everyone in the world aside from Tom seems to be unnecessarily cruel to her, including the cab driver who literally wrestles her to the ground, or the nurse who scowls at her when she refuses to get undressed and ready for the doctor. Director / writer Ron Krauss is unwilling to allow her situation to be the only challenge, and also undermines Tom's kindness in the process, by making him saintly in the face of an unreasonably unfair universe.
Then again, although these opening scenes are contrived and schizophrenic, at least they've got a natural edge to them. After Apple steals a car and wrecks it, she ends up in a hospital, where the kindly Father McCarthy (James Earl Jones) meets her. The usual painful cliches ensue. "God don't care about me," Apple cries. "You talk about suffering? You think you know me?" Of course, Father McCarthy knows her better than she could imagine, and he sends her to Kathy (Ann Dowd), who started helping pregnant teens 20 years ago by letting them into her home, and now runs an entire shelter. There, Apple will learn that the world isn't entirely against her, and the kindness of strangers, and urgh let's just get this over with. It's more than possible for movies to tell compelling stories about these kinds of centers (last year's Short Term 12 comes to mind), but Gimme Shelter wraps everything up in cutesy platitudes and saccharine bursts of emotion.
As Tom, Brendan Fraser puts forth a sincere effort and comes out looking okay, which only makes it more disappointing that the film around him is so reductive and conventional. The same goes for Rosario Dawson, who fully inhabits her awful, manipulative character. Jones is hardly in the film, mostly saddled with exposition, and the only fellow "inmate" to make much of an impression is Emily Meade as Cassandra, The Girl That Tempts Apple Into Regression. Even at their best, none of these performers are able to rise above the material, which fully believes the viewer will be swept up into trope after trope, which build to a wholly conventional ending. Good intentions are admirable, but they don't make for a good movie. Donating whatever money would've gone toward seeing Gimme Shelter will accomplish more, and faster.
Lionsgate delivers Gimme Shelter with a big picture of Vanessa Hudgens' face that is not the theatrical poster that features Vanessa Hudgens' face, which is really odd to me. Maybe the designers felt there was a chance audiences wouldn't recognize her in the poster image, which adorns the back cover instead. The single-disc release comes in a matte slipcover with identical artwork, and there is an insert with the UltraViolet digital copy code inside the eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-Ray case.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, this is a pretty top-notch presentation across the board. Fine detail is very strong, and the film's color palette (which appears slightly desaturated) is well-rendered. Throughout, I detected no significant instances of banding or artifacting, although one moment appears to have a strange visual effect superimposed over it. The sound actually has a few moments to work with, including a car accident which explodes with tiny glass and debris details. Music is vibrant, and dialogue is clean and crisp. No A/V complaints here. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Two brief extras are included: a making-of featurette (12:43) provides a quick glimpse at Hudgens' research for the role and the experiences that led Krauss to want to make the film, as well as an interview with Ann Dowd and the real-life person who inspired her character. This is followed by a very brief reel of deleted scenes (5:56), many of which are inconsequential, although one is an alternate and more dramatically explosive version of what's in the movie. Optional commentary by Krauss (which sounds like it was recorded by telephone) is available on these scenes, but not the full feature. Both of these features are presented in HD.
Trailers for Mister & Dee, Grace Unplugged, Winter's Bone, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu. No trailer for Gimme Shelter is included.
Movies like Gimme Shelter always have the adult mentors, the ones who look at the troubled protagonist and know exactly what they're going through, and that they can only help themselves. It's undoubtedly a moment that the people who do those jobs in real life have experienced a thousand times, but it's also exactly why a film like Gimme Shelter desperately needs a spark of inspiration. Sadly, this film doesn't have one. Skip it.
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