The Shelter of a Mother's Little Helper
However appropriate a title for this narrative too, Gimme Shelter still calls up the Maysles, Rolling Stones and Altamont. Director, writer and co-producer Ron Krauss’ 2013 feel-good could have ended in the tragedy of serious problems also considered in other, mostly inner-city fictions and non’s -- but here merely swept sweetly under our collective carpet.
As film, the PG-13’s own serious problem is common to many a “based–on-inspiring-true-events” whose “inspiring” sticks in the craw. The saccharine result views as a right-to-life text with faith-based piousness in James Earl Jones’s Reverend Frank McCarthy and white do-goodism born of personal experience in Ann Dowd’s Kathy Defiore. There is a nasty picture of addiction which soaks up ill-considered aid-to-dependent-children and other social handouts in Rosario Dawson’s June Bailey, contrasted with heartstrings need for comprehension of and forgiveness for Brendan Fraser as negligent father Tom Fitzgerald.
At sixteen, Agnes Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) insists on the name Apple, given her by the white father she has never known beyond a treasured photo enclosed in his sole long-ago letter of mea culpa. Still sporting the nose and lip studs to be discarded when she cleans up her act, she cuts her hair and flees the Newark slum of addicted mother and current boyfriend. Not certain or perhaps even aware she is pregnant from a single encounter, she seeks that father in his gated manicured mansion.
With parental and love-child issues just like June and Apple, Tom harbors guilt feelings and welcomes the girl despite resistance from wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) and ridicule from their own two children too young to understand. Along with her clothing, sparing use of makeup, and body piercings, the teen’s table manners will later improve to indicate a change in attitude, but at present she unapologetically wolfs down everything edible before rejecting the suburban family’s embrace conditioned by their insistence she have an abortion.
The girl flees again, this time to the rainy mean streets, races off in and crashes the car of a would-be rapist and pimp, and winds up bruised and handcuffed to a hospital bed. Dragging a hapless social worker, mother June shows up to reclaim the love of this daughter she herself had by Tom in not dissimilar circumstances at seventeen, but also to get hooks into government money through the yet unborn child whom Apple will christen Hope, not unreasonable but too symbolic.
Like her other appearances, the birth mother’s visit is whiningly self-pitying while at the same time violently bullying, in the wake of which the pregnant girl turns to hospital chaplain McCarthy, whom, along with an uncaring God, she had previously spurned. To chicken soup soul food like “never apologize for your true feelings,” he eases her into Defiore’s house, about to celebrate twenty years as a refuge for abused, disadvantaged, home- or family-less pregnant teens and young mothers.
Surly and uncooperative at first, tempted by the even more defiant Cassandra, “Cassie” (Emily Meade), and uneasy at the founding lady’s parading them in a public request for donations -- an issue abruptly introduced yet immediately dropped -- Apple is won over, predictably, by the other racially, ethnically mixed expectant and recent mothers and their infants. Learning to “stop dancing with your demons,” she definitely breaks with her own pitiful though abusive manipulative mother, as well as understands and asks for understanding from her contrite Wall Street father.
Gimme Shelter promises “redemption and family.” Its complicating force and conflict undeniably real, its thrust is defeated by clichéd treatment and uninspired performances.
(Released by Roadside Attractions and rated “PG-13" for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.)