Review: Gimme Shelter Shines With Inspired Work From Vanessa Hudgens

Gimme Shelter (Roadside Attractions)During Gimme Shelter’s third act, director Ronald Krauss effectively utilizes “To Build A Home,” a stirring song from The Cinematic Orchestra. Although it starts off in  subtle fashion, the track reaches an epic swell as Patrick Watson reflects on life’s evanescent nature. But nothing in this world is truly permanent, and on our borrowed time building a home, or for that matter a family, can be a truly beautiful thing.

We are introduced to Apple (Vanessa Hudgens), a distraught, angry teenager who leaves her crack addicted mother (Rosario Dawson) to find her absentee father (Brendan Fraser), a successful Wall Street exec who’s moved on with his own family (Stephanie Szostak, memorable in Dinner for Schmucks, plays Fraser’s wife). Life in a new environment unfortunately doesn’t suit Apple, whose emotional scars won’t exactly heal overnight.

Apple’s pregnancy complicates matters with her father and stepmom, as they suggest that motherhood is not her best option. Distraught and confused, Apple moves on and decides to keep her baby even with no resources at her disposal. A near fatal car accident leads her to a friendship with a dedicated clergyman (an effective James Earl Jones) who then steers her into a shelter headed by a woman named Kathy (Ann Dowd).

Gimme Shelter (Roadside Attractions)

Ronald Krauss’ film is inspired by his friendship with Kathy DiFiore, the founder of Several Sources Shelter, and he lived at the shelter for a year to research a planned documentary. After taping over 200 hours of interviews, he decided a narrative was the most effective way to tell Kathy’s story, and Apple was inspired by several women he met at the shelter (including one of the film’s co-stars, Darlisha Dozier).

It’s great to see Krauss’ cinematic heart is in the right place, and although some naysayers may see the drama as heavy handed and predictable, I was completely immersed with Apple’s journey. I’m a sucker whenever an actor goes for the fences and hits a performance out of the park, and Vanessa Hudgens, who gained 15 pounds and lived in a shelter for several weeks, gives her most inspired performance to date. There are no false notes in Hudgens’ work, and it’s hard not to connect Apple’s transformation with the actress’ own personal growth. It’s a finely etched and nuanced turn, and along with her turns in Spring Breakers and The Frozen Ground, Hudgens is carving out an impressive body of work.

Brendan Fraser, who donated his film’s salary to DiFiore’s Several Sources Shelter, brings ample empathy and depth to a role that could have been considered two dimensional. As June, Rosario Dawson also delivers a pitch perfect portrayal of a woman who will probably never overcome her crippling addictions. In one memorable sequence with Hudgens, Dawson delivers a monologue that’s truly hard to shake, as June finally realizes that she’s lost her one and only love.

To hear Rosario Dawson talk about the complex relationship between Apple and June, click on the clip below:

There will be discussions that Gimme Shelter is a pro-life film since it explores Apple’s decision and and Kathy DiFiore’s faith filled experiences. But these are all ingredients which are part of a bigger meal, as the picture offers a compelling look at how family isn’t simply defined by our DNA. A house is not a home without filling it with the people we love, and thanks to sublime acting from all parties involved, as well as solid storytelling from Mr. Krauss, Gimme Shelter continues to resonate past the closing credits.

To hear Vanessa Hudgens staying in character during Gimme Shelter, click on the Soundcloud bar below:

Gimme Shelter opens today in select theaters.

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