Gimme Shelter might be the film that launches Vanessa Hudgens’ firmly out of the shadow of the Disney Channel and into a respected, mature acting career. In the Ron Krauss-directed picture, Hudgens takes the lead as Apple, a young teenager from the inner city who’s determined to leave her crack house of a home and abusive, drug-addled mother June (Rosario Dawson) behind.

A letter sent to Apple by a father she’s never met, leads her out of the bowels of New York City to a pristine, acetic suburb in New Jersey. The dissonance between Apple’s disheveled appearance and the tree-lined streets wending their way through gated driveways is deafening. All Apple wants from her dad is temporary shelter, just until she can get herself on her feet. While Tom (Brendan Frasier) warms to the thought, his wife Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) can’t bear the idea of having her husband’s illegitimate child living under the same roof as her two precious children. The outlook only gets worse when it’s discovered Apple is pregnant.

As Apple, Hudgens is feral – her posture, walk, speech and raw emotion show her complete commitment to her role. With this part, Hudgens truly goes for it, gets gritty and proves she can act. Even when the script is clunky, or the plot heavy-handed, she makes you believe in earnest the tough reality her character faces. She slouches her way though scenes, peering out through ragged bangs, releasing guttural shouts and insecure hisses. If Spring Breakers made you forget about High School Musical’s Gabriella, Gimme Shelter certainly makes sure the memory won’t be coming back.

Dawson is positively disdainful in the role of Apple’s mother. From her brown teeth and the purple lipstick surrounding them to her inner ugliness, her character does little else but repulse. The way Dawson plays the manipulative mother, you genuinely find yourself thankful to be separated from her by the medium of film – consequently unable to fall into her carefully woven traps. As the “straight man” who got her pregnant in youth and is now living the “American dream,” Frasier conveys the complete emotional ignorance of Tom, as he undeservingly scolds his troubled daughter in the deep baritone of privilege and naiveté.

At times, Gimme Shelter is truly affecting. Even some of the scenes with the worst parts of the script can be weathered, especially when Hudgens is on screen. But the reality is that the script is wanting, as is the overall sense of realism that’s almost imperative to a film with this subject matter. Some aspects of the plot came across as tonally off – including the caricature of suburbia that is Tom Fitzgerald and his family, led with the shrill voice of his tight-bodied, Type-A wife. It all foils Apple so severely that it almost verges on dark comedy.

Gimme Shelter is, in large part, a film that makes a case against abortion. If Apple can keep her child, anyone can. There’s always a way, even in the most desperate and fortuneless of circumstances. The underlying subject threatened to be alienating and preachy. It’s a credit to the film that it manages to be neither. Apple’s decision to keep her kid – while she’s a kid herself – is a personal revelation. And when religion is brought into the film, it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t add to or take away from Apple’s agency. It comes in the form of a well-cast James Earl Jones, a hospital chaplain that guides her to the titular shelter.

While Gimme Shelter has its flaws, it’s hard to dislike a move in which an actor may well be having a breakout performance. Despite the dialogue and plot aggravations, there’s a rawness to Hudgens’ Apple that grounds the story. The most important thing that had to be there, was a belief in Apple’s journey – both physical and emotional. Hudgens softens her, opens her up gradually. Nothing feels manufactured about Apple, which makes Gimme Shelter a more than decent watch.

Watch Uinterview's EXCLUSIVE interview with Rosario Dawson here:

Gimme Shelter, rated PG-13, is currently in wide release.

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