A furious 16-year-old girl cuts her hair in big, violent gestures. This is how we meet Apple, the messed-up heroine of “Gimme Shelter,” just before she escapes her mother’s grungy, violent household.
Along with cutting her ties to her drug-addled, irresponsible mother, this hair-chopping could also be read as a symbolic act on the part of the actress playing Apple. Vanessa Hudgens found teen stardom as one of Disney’s “High School Musical” breakouts, and taking on movies like this (and last year’s cuckoo “Spring Breakers”) is a way of graduating to a different kind of professional status.
As a career-changer, “Gimme Shelter” is great for Hudgens. She’s completely convincing in it, a dark ball of coiled anger and inchoate acting-out. The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to her performance.
Apple does get away from her monster of a mother (Rosario Dawson), a stereotype of the conniving “welfare queen.” Writer-director Ronald Krauss isn’t terribly nuanced when it comes to painting the outlines of the supporting characters.
Finding her biological father (a pasty-looking Brendan Fraser) doesn’t prove much better for Apple; he’s a Wall Street broker, married with kids, living in an antiseptic planned-community environment.
Apple finally finds some actual shelter in the form of a home for pregnant teens. This, in fact, is the movie’s “based on a true story” connection — “Gimme Shelter” was inspired by a real place, and the real person, Kathy DiFiore, who opened her home as a shelter in 1981.
Ann Dowd, who was memorable as the bullied fast-food worker in “Compliance,” plays DiFiore with a lived-in humanity.
There’s also James Earl Jones, puttering around as a honey-voiced priest who lets Apple know that the Bible holds the answers.
The film tries not to get too overt in showing its anti-abortion purpose, although that seems to be a large part of the reason for its existence. Not much clouds the black-and-white lines here, although Apple’s final decisions lead to a somewhat surprising ending.
The straight-on emotionalism of Hudgens’ performance is what keeps most scenes going, so at least the movie has that through-line.
As far as the rest is concerned, the glib appropriation of a Rolling Stones title gives you some indication of this film’s tendency to take shortcuts.
“Gimme Shelter” (two stars)
Former Disney teen star Vanessa Hudgens is a convincing teen runaway, and by far the best thing about this well-intentioned tale. The movie’s inspired by a real-life home for young unwed mothers, and its black-and-white way of viewing the world is complicated only by the anger in Hudgens’ performance. With Brendan Fraser.
Rated: PG-13 for language, subject matter.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Meridian.