Dr. Donna Copeland’s
VANESSA HUDGENS BRENDEN FRASER ROSARIO DAWSON ANN DOWD JAMES EARL JONES
It’s fascinating to watch an actress who made it big on a silly Disney movie musical like High School Musical wait for that right moment to deliver something unexpected. Vanessa Hudgens (Spring Breakers, Sucker Punch) delivers the performance of her career, which isn’t saying much, but this is still a fearless debut of her real acting talent. Based on a very dark true story, Hudgens and the rest of the cast elevate this otherwise predicable and donation inspiring story to better heights. It comes in clear with a message behind its darkness and, granted, at times the story sinks so low you wonder if this character will find the light. Director Ron Krauss doesn’t use anything but basic filmmaking and storytelling to convey the emotion and hopelessness of the character’s struggle, and perhaps that’s exactly what is called for.
At 16 years old, Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Hudgens) escapes from her drug addicted mother (Dawson) in order to save herself and the baby she is carrying. She has never met her father but she arrives unwelcome at his doorstep anyway. Living the life of luxury with a wife and two kids, Tom (Fraser) tries to help his lip pierced, grunge looking daughter with no manners, stinky clothes and a bad attitude, but they are from opposite worlds and have unrealistic expectations for each other. Apple finds a care center for young girls and their babies, run for 20 years by a woman who was at one time in the same situation as the girls. For the first time Apple feels like she has a support system and the courage to survive.
The entire film relies on nothing else but the audience's ability to empathize and care about Hudgens's character Apple. We watch as she is thrown out of cabs, abused by her mother, feeds out of trash dumpsters and looks for warmth in empty cars. Apple isn’t a kind person because she has never been in a situation where she could be calm or relaxed, so it’s difficult in the beginning for the audience to care about someone who literally acts like a wild animal. If Apple acts like an animal, Dawson looks like one as the mother with rotten, corroded teeth and street clothes. Both she and the always disappointing Fraser give surprisingly impressive performances.
“Never apologize for your true feelings,” Father Frank McCarthy (Jones) impresses upon Apple. Jones gives a kind and gentle performance here that feels like a character out of the old Touched by an Angel series; his character serves as a bridge to get from one point of the film to another. Dowd, who is fresh off her impressive turn last year in Compliance, isn’t written with much more to do than mediate. The film's good intentions seem to get the best of it, and except for a terrific tear filled monologue in the end, the movie somewhat wraps itself up in a happy ending--deserved, but predictable.
Final Thought – Hudgens breakout performance is worth seeing.
By: Dustin Chase
Vanessa Hudgens does a superb job of acting as Agnes Bailey—or Apple, as she likes to be called. Her timing is perfect, and she nails the part of a sullen teenager who is unable to articulate even for herself what she wants or to plan how to get it. The writer (also director) Ron Krauss must be very familiar with similar teens in her circumstances, i.e., impulsive, erratic, and with very little ability to plan ahead. Apple is the daughter of a drug addict, June (Rosario Dawson) who has similar inabilities but has acquired a sociopathic streak for gaming the system. Apple’s other parent, Tom (Brendan Fraser), does not know her because of circumstances when June became pregnant.
Perhaps inadvertently on Krauss’ part, the film is also an indictment of our social system and the lack of compassion and patience among ordinary people in our society. I was struck by the number of encounters Apple had in the beginning of the film in which counseling for this clearly distressed child was not even considered. When she lands at her father’s doorstep, and there are momentous decisions to be made, no one discusses issues with her; they rush to solutions without even consulting her. No surprise, then, that she bolts whenever she can.
It is understandable, then, that the first person Apple begins to develop a modicum of trust in is the priest (James Earl Jones) who visits her in the hospital after an accident. He presents options to her, but refrains from telling her what to do, giving her time and room to think for herself. (Good counseling!)
Gimme Shelter is a well made film with an especially well told story and fine acting; my only problem with it is that it’s a bit pie-in-the-sky. For every Apple fortunate enough to have a well-to-do father and a home that takes her in and treats her well, there are millions with a much more tragic story. In that sense, I think the film is a bit heavy-handed in giving the impression that all mothers should keep their babies and everything will turn out all right. Apple herself is testament of the sad, abusive life she had before she just happened to land in a setting where people took an interest in her, and she had enough insight and understanding to use what she was given. Not everyone—like the character Cassandra (Emily Meade)—is able to adjust. Another point I’d like to make is that logic and experience would suggest that after all she has been through without a decent mother, the likelihood of Apple’s being able to nurture and bring up her child in a healthy way is pretty slim, but the film suggests that “they were all happy ever after.” I do hope that is the case of the woman in the true story.
By: Donna R. Copeland