In the opening scene of Gimme Shelter, Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) stands in front of a mirror and cuts off her hair. Her character, Apple, has a tattoo on her neck and rings in her lip, nose and eyebrow — leaving no doubt Hudgens is eager to leave her Disneyfied good-girl image behind.
Apple looks unwashed, unhappy and hopeless. She's a 16-year-old who's been dealt a bad hand and has no idea how to turn it around.
If she plays her cards wrong, she'll end up like her mother, June (Rosario Dawson), an abusive addict who calls her a "useless whore" as Apple runs away in the opening moments. This is good drama.
Five minutes later, when Apple gets to the home of her estranged father (Brendan Fraser), we begin to dislike her and want it all to end.
What goes wrong? Plenty. Mostly, though, the problem lies with writer/director Ron Krauss, who forgets that audience sympathy evaporates when characters make decisions that defy logic for the sake of drama.
After putting up a stink to stay in her wealthy father's sizable mansion, the next morning Apple runs away. Why? It's not made clear, but it doesn't take much for her father, Tom, to talk her into staying.
Then it's discovered that she's pregnant. Tom and his wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) arrange for an abortion, correctly pointing out that Apple has no way of providing for a baby. She runs away again. The following morning she's eating out of a dumpster, and if ever there's a moment in which you know you should feel sorry for someone but don't, this is it.
It's not so much the running away, or other actions that are the film's undoing — it's the lack of explanation. Why would Apple leave Tom's house? What is she afraid of? Why does she want to have the baby? All are good questions that should've been answered to provide depth and clarity to the story. Instead, we're asked to accept Apple as is, which is asking a lot when she's so helpless in helping herself.
Hudgens is limited as a dramatic actress, but give her credit for having the temerity to put her wholesome image to rest for good. (She was solid as a bad girl last year in Spring Breakers.) If she keeps pushing herself and evolving as an actress, good things are likely to come. But Dawson is the real acting standout here, as her scenes are both intensely passionate and bonkers crazy. You completely understand June's desperation and perceived betrayal, even though you know she's a cesspool of a human being.
The film is based on the true story of Kathy DiFiore, played here by Ann Dowd, who in real life opened shelters for pregnant teens, the homeless, sick and elderly. One wonders what a movie about her journey would've offered, and how much better it would/could have been than what's presented here.