A few months ago I was reading about the fact that Rick Santorum – evangelical Christian and mega-conservative politician who came in second for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination – was starting a new film company to create religious “family-friendly” films. The first of those, The Christmas Candle,blew out with barely a flutter over the holiday season. The few reviews that film received pointed out the film’s heavy-handed moralizing.
About a half hour into the press screening of Gimme Shelter, I suddenly had a weird feeling: Oh shit, I’m at another Rick Santorum movie. The more I watched, the more I was sure that was the case. Turns out Santorum had nothing to do with the movie. But he may as well have.
Gimme Shelter is sort of like getting stuck at an almost two-hour-long evangelical pro-life rally, complete with sermonizing, lots of cute babies, random bible passages, the vilification of “welfare queens” and even gratuitous references to Ronald Reagan. If they only added some gun rights arguments and a confederate flag, I would swear it was made by the Tea Party.
Kind of a weird place to end up in a movie which blatantly steals its title from an old Rolling Stones song.
Is Gimme Shelter a bad movie? Not really, but it is not a good film either. It is well filmed, the acting is mostly good and some of the action is gripping. Still, it is a screenplay at service of a cause, not a storyline. It is working so hard to convince us that every little life is sacred that it never quite bothers to show us realistic, complicated adult lives.
A title scrawl at the beginning assures us that Gimme Shelter is “based on a true story” of Agnes “Apple” Bailey. I suppose it is nice that it’s a true story, though I’m not going to lie, I’m not sure why Apple’s story warrants filming. All she really does is escape from an abusive lifestyle and decide to keep her baby. Not to underestimate her accomplishment, but lots of people have done that.
Apple is played by former teen queen Vanessa Hudgens, all of her High School Musical cute perkiness overshadowed by dirt, cuts, bruises, lack of makeup, facial piercings and a really bad scissor-cut hairdo. We meet her in a run-down project apartment, where she hides in a bathroom, cuts off most of her hair and then makes a break to get away from her dirty, drug addled mom, who just wants Apple around so she can cash her welfare checks.