Regardless of whether we're discussing the independent film scene or the big-scale motion pictures that the major studios release, a formulaic structure has affected countless features. While this doesn't include every film that is released, a lot of the nationwide presentations deliver us with stories that we've already been told numerous times before, and the overall plot structure remains unchanged. It seems to be working with the target audiences, so why change it? I always enjoy seeing new concepts and approaches to expressing stories and characters. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that I dislike a film for merely following the structure that so many filmmakers live by around the world. There are so many factors that lead us to liking or disliking a movie. Gimme Shelter is one of those features that follows a familiar structure, but it succeeds in its execution. That is a key factor that a lot of motion pictures fail at achieving. This is an emotional journey that ultimately succeeds in telling its story.
Agnes 'Apple' Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) has faced an extremely difficult childhood, as she has gone through several homes in the foster care system and had to live with her terribly abusive mother, June Bailey (Rosario Dawson). Now that Apple is a teenager, she has made the decision to seek out her Wall Street father, Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser). She knows nothing about him, but soon discovers that he has a different family of his own. She tries to ask for his help while she gets back on her feet, but ultimately faces a lot of conflict with her father's wife. Apple has no choice, but to live on the streets and fight through a desperate journey of survival.
Gimme Shelter begins in telling its story when Apple makes the decision to leave and try to make a better life for herself. In order to begin with making such a huge change, she cuts her hair extremely short, symbolically shedding who she used to be, as she mumbles to herself "I'm okay. I'm not scared. I'm okay." Little does Apple know that she will need to endure a lot more in order to accept the past. Once she's able to make the difficult journey to where her father lives, she finds that he lives in a beautiful mansion. Apple still has a lot of resentment against him, since he abandoned her before she was even born. Filled with anger, sadness, and fear, she continues to try and push forward. As the audience, it's easier for us to see the way out, but this is more than a tough coming-of-age story. Gimme Shelter displays the fight that Apple must have within herself if she hopes to survive in this rough and gritty world.
This relatively complex character becomes even more so once she discovers that she's pregnant. Everybody around Apple tells her that she isn't ready to become a mother and that she needs to get an abortion. She's aware that she doesn't have the means to support a child, since she can't even handle herself. However, she has already fallen in love with this unborn baby and intends to fight for her young. Apple continues to land herself in more trouble, which is when she is told about a clinic being run by Kathy (Ann Dowd). It's located in her personal home, where she takes in teenage girls who are pregnant and homeless. This is when Gimme Shelter drastically shifts its tone. Apple finally finds a tunnel with sunlight at the end. However, she must embark upon a dangerous journey filled with numerous obstacles that must be overcome. The picture becomes less about Apple trying to simply survive, and more about her ability to thrive with a group of girls who have found themselves in similarly difficult situations. They are all rebels of society's expectations, but they continue to fight together in order to provide the best life possible for their children. I know that this sounds incredibly familiar, and that's because it is. Similar stories have been played out several times on the silver screen, but as I mentioned, the execution makes it stand out.
Writer/director Ron Krauss handles the transition shifts pretty well. This is a drama through and through. It could have easily transformed into a tacky representation of this true story, but it never does. In fact, Gimme Shelter kept me engaged in Apple and her journey. Krauss does an excellent job in making us sympathize with her and root for her to succeed in making a better life for herself and her unborn child. The dialogue is one of the major factors that keep us captivated. There are some excellent monologues here that come across as feeling quite sincere and raw. The character developments are believable, as it never feels as if anybody changes overnight. The biggest gripe that I have with Gimme Shelter is in its third act. It doesn't make any sense, and it pulled me out of a moment that could have been an outstanding one.
Apple is a character filled with numerous emotions, as she fights both outer and inner conflicts. Fortunately, her casting is exceptional. Vanessa Hudgens delivers the best performance of her career as Apple. She has proven that she's no longer a Disney star, but can actually act and work with complex material. She isn't even recognizable here with her hair chopped off, piercings, and a tattoo. Hudgens is impactful and effective, as she aids in making Apple as natural as possible. Rosario Dawson does an exceptional job in the role of June Bailey. Dawson manages to portray numerous layers underneath this character and makes her a lot more human. She bounces energy off of Hudgens, as they share some incredibly powerful scenes. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Brendan Fraser as Tom Fitzpatrick. While he isn't necessarily bad in the role, there's a clear disconnect between him and the character. It's incredibly difficult to take him seriously. This makes it difficult to entirely believe the more emotional moments between him and Apple. However, Ann Dowd delivers yet another impressive performance as Kathy. She does a marvelous job in making the second half of the film keep its momentum.
Gimme Shelter is Precious meets Girl, Interrupted. Even though it follows a clear structure, the execution is impressive. This is an emotional and engaging feature that exceeded my expectations. Vanessa Hudgens is fantastic in the lead role, as she delivers the material very well. Even though the ending took me aback, it doesn't stop the remainder of the picture from being an impactful drama that displays a teenage girl's desperate journey of survival. The film isn't imaginative, but the execution makes this a decent drama. While it isn't for everybody, Gimme Shelter has enough genuine moments to make it worth experiencing. Recommended.