Does "Gimme Shelter" belong in the category of Brilliant Filmmaking? Not really. But it’s a good film, and for what it seeks to be, it hits a home run.
I’m reminded of "One True Thing", in which Renee Zellweger takes great umbrage at the waste of a morning spent schlepping some woman around town. Her mother Meryl Streep remarks that that wasn’t what they were doing at all; that the woman was suffering a setback and feeling depressed, and what they had just done was spend a morning reminding her that she was still valued and valuable.
"Gimme Shelter"’s kinda like that. For a couple of hours it ably brings us the true story of one lost teenager and her quest for a safe, secure environment. But its raison d’etre powerfully brings us the true story of thousands just like her. And of the people that put them where they are, perhaps keep them where they are, and perhaps support them out of it.
Here we meet 16-year-old Apple, who in desperation flees her drug-addicted mother into the deeply surprised hands of the biological father she’s never met. A wildly successful Wall Street stock broker and apparently happily married father of two, papa Tom attempts to respond to the situation; but when it turns out Apple is pregnant, things go from bad to worse, and Apple finds herself homeless.
Serving here as producer, writer, and director, Ron Krauss shows up stronger as the first two than the last. This isn’t to say that his direction is lacking by any means, only that it doesn’t enhance the film per se. I’ve spoken on other occasions as to the heights achievable via the director’s perspective (in quite literal terms); the way the director frames and manages the shot can take a film from good to great.
Here we don’t enjoy such height, but we do have Krauss’ script, and it gives his actors room to breathe some glorious life into "Gimme Shelter". His tale is well told and he gives his actors the dialogue and room to create finely-drawn and effective portrayals.
Rosario Dawson shines as Apple’s mother June, utterly consumed, both physically and spiritually, by the demon suffusing her brain. Dawson fully inhabits the eyes of one clouded by need, by demand, by craving, and by the vengeful hostility vented toward any who dare to comment on it. If William Hurt can have been nominated for a thirteen-minute appearance, Dawson deserves, at the very least, to be on the discussion agenda come springtime.
Brendan Fraser (saddled with the world’s worst haircut, poor guy) conveys Tom’s goodness, stability, and well-managed shock with a demeanor beautifully representing loving confrontation, understanding, and respect. Tom’s not perfect, no man is, and Fraser brings the perfect imperfect man.
Of course Vanessa Hudgens as Apple captures the spotlight, and deservedly so. Feral, justifiably defiant, and frightened, she carries very nearly every frame of "Gimme Shelter". This is no small task for any actor, and Hudgens not only manages it, but manages it such that she places herself squarely in contention for any role requiring actual acting. No more the Disney sweetie alone, Hudgens has much to be proud of here.
Krauss also graces "Gimme Shelter" with an example of virtually every conversation relevant to the discussion at hand, namely that of pregnant minors fending for themselves. Such circumstance (and its relief) does not happen in a vacuum, and Krauss depicts both the cause and the consequence within the story’s natural progression vs. preachy soliloquy.
Thus he effects the film’s great power; "Gimme Shelter" acknowledges the forces at work, while focusing on the solution: the foundations of stability, respect, cooperation, willingness, and love (not the warm-fuzzy-I-feel-happy kind, but the verb-based-action kind). Love for oneself and for others, in equal measure. Willingness that speaks and hears difficult truth.Self-reliance that accepts help.
"Gimme Shelter" demonstrates both love in action and its opposite. Apple’s love for herself in the constant fight for freedom, and for her baby; Tom’s love for his family and for himself in the form of preserving the life he’s worked faithfully to build; shelter founder Kathy DiFiore’s for bereft women and for the spiritual calling she feels upon her life.
And the opposite of such love, in the form of June’s addiction and its self-serving grasping; in the statutes and bureaucracy that keep the Apples trapped; and in the unwillingness of Tom’s wife Joanna, of the ilk whose wretched lack of intestinal fortitude begets cruel behavior. (Two scenes took place around a picture-perfect dining room table, and all I could see was Tom at that table in the dark, ten years hence, saying, “Things would have been okay if there hadn’t been any mess. But you can’t handle mess.”)
We aren’t told how all the relationships play out, and perhaps that’s okay; it’s consistent with "Gimme Shelter"’s stance that it’s not the larger world and its future that makes the difference, but rather how we show up and meet the moment.
Will we meet the moment well? And how does one decide what “well” even means? What are the criteria? If we don’t, or if our good efforts nonetheless fall short, can we make amends, find a second chance? When is such a chance deserved, and when not?
"Gimme Shelter" meets its moment well. It meets it with heart, with love, with courage, and with hope. Well enough that thousands will hear their story told, well enough to inspire actual response from those who hear it. (Case in point: at a post-screening Q&A here in Houston, three attendees inquired as to how to set up a shelter like DiFiore’s locally.) Well enough to heighten the careers of Dawson and Hudgens. Well enough to wake up the heart.
Well enough, indeed.
You can learn more about Kathy DiFiore’s shelter initiatives, now expanded to include homeless women, at SeveralSources.net.
Story: A teenager flees her abusive, drug-addicted mother to seek help from the father she’s never seen, and when it turns out she’s pregnant, things get worse.
Genre: Drama, Biography
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Ann Dowd, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones, Stephanie Szostak
Directed by: Ron Krauss
Running time: 101 minutes
Official Site: http://gimmeshelterthemovie.com/
Houston release date: January 24, 2014
Tickets: Check Fandango, IMDb, or your local listings
Screened Jan 21st 2014 at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX