If you don’t care much for football, don’t even know who’s playing in the Super Bowl, or you’re just dreading what Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction will be tomorrow…this may be a good weekend to check out the newly-released film, Gimme Shelter*.
This isn’t just another run-of-the-mill pregnant teenager from a broken home who ends up on the streets movie. Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a young girl who is trying to break the cycle of poverty, abuse, welfare and addiction that has surrounded her for all of her 16 years. She is determined to change her family tree, right from the beginning, when we see her chopping off her long hair (probably in an effort to be as different from her mother as possible) and telling her drug-addicted, abusive mom (Rosario Dawson- also doing some excellent work here), “I’m done.”
The story follows her on her quest to find her birth father, whose only contact with her came in the form of a letter that he sent to her before she was born. Her father Tom, played by Brendan Fraser (The Mummy), is now a wealthy Wall Street guy living in New Jersey with his wife and two young children. They agree to help her, but when they find out she’s pregnant, they want her to end her pregnancy. Her father tells her to “turn the page” and put “this” behind her. When Apple refuses to do that, she ends up back out in the streets. However, even in this darkest of dark times, she prays to God for help.
As so often happens in real life, help doesn’t seem to come when or how we want it to, but it’s at this point in time that Apple meets a Catholic priest, Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones), who reaches out to her with God’s love and truth from the Bible. At first, Apple is less than receptive to anything about God as she angrily asks Father McCarthy, “Where was God when I was being abused and suffering all those years?”
Without beating her over the head with it, Father McCarthy gives her the Good Book and tells her to “turn to page 72”. She does, and reads the words from Jeremiah 29: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
While these brief mentions of God and the Bible may be enough to turn off some people, the film is definitely not preachy. Just as Father McCarthy is non-assuming in his dealings with Apple, this film brings a very life-affirming and hopeful message without beating the audience over the head with it. Apple begins to learn to trust, and with Father McCarthy’s help, finds shelter in a home for young un-wed mothers and mothers-to-be. The shelter is run by Kathy Difiore (Ann Dowd), the woman on whose real-life story this movie is based. It’s here where she begins to face the truth about herself and her life through the bonds she develops with the other girls in the house. Even as she learns to live in a more stable setting, her old life keeps trying to drag her down as her junkie mother refuses to let her go.
There’s a lot going on in this film, and it’s extremely well-acted and directed. So many of the movies coming out of Hollywood take stories like this and wallow in victimhood, darkness and hopelessness— never showing that something good can still happen even in the worst situations. While Gimme Shelter doesn’t shy away from showing the grim hopelessness of a life on the streets or a life of growing up in chaos, it doesn’t stay there.
In fact, director Ron Krauss had a hard time getting this movie out. Krauss told National Review that he faced criticism from the Hollywood machine and tried for a year to get this movie in theaters. He said, “A lot of people in Hollywood actually went out of their way to make sure this movie would not come out. People tried to pay me off”.
Fortunately for us, the movie is out and it’s message of what love can do to change lives, hearts and futures is out there for anyone who wants to see it. If you’ve ever asked, “Where was God when____?”— this movie is for you.
But bring Kleenex…lots of it.
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