Vanessa Hudgens plays a wayward teen with face piercings and a neck tattoo in "Gimme Shelter." Credit: Roadside Attractions Vanessa Hudgens plays a wayward teen with face piercings and a neck tattoo in "Gimme Shelter."
Credit: Roadside Attractions

‘Gimme Shelter
Director: Ron Krauss
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The 1992 drama “Where the Day Takes You” is much and deservedly mocked for starring hot young actors — Dermot Mulroney, Lara Flynn Boyle, Balthazar Getty — who, despite playing homeless youths, looked like they stepped off a Vogue shoot. The new indie “Gimme Shelter” features no inexplicable hair gel. The first thing we see is Vanessa Hudgens’ face buried underneath a mess of tangled hair. After she artlessly chops it down with a pair of rusty scissors, we see it’s blemished and dotted with piercings. And of course she rocks a neck tattoo — today’s favorite shortcut for condescending portrayals of the down and out. (See also: Ryan Gosling in “The Place Beyond the Pines” and Jack Gyllenhaal in “Prisoners.”)

If it avoids one cliche, it falls, hard, for another: this is a classic case of an actor no one takes seriously as a thespian trying to become a serious thespian. Hudgens plays Agnes — although she prefers to be called “Apple” — a wayward 16 year old who’s gone through endless foster homes, suffered all manner of unspeakable abuse, only to be stuck with her monstrous, druggie mom (Rosario Dawson). With a few stray bills to her name, Agnes bolts to the tony manse of a Wall Street stooge (Brendan Fraser), whose relationship to her won’t be revealed to late in (although it’s highly guessable).

 

Agnes is an aggressive and unstoppable force, frequently exacerbating already horrid matters by acting unpredictably and flipping out over tiny (and not so tiny) slights. The “High School Musical” star has never attempted or even approached such emotional intensity, and she over-compensates by doing all caps acting. She bulges her eyes, goes street fight on the flip of a dime. She’s not unlike Emilie Dequenne in the Dardennes brothers’ neo-neo-realist classic “Rosetta,” only she adds to the mix screaming and, as Brick Tamland would say, LOUD NOISES.

She’s more shrill than gritty, and one takes pity on an actor trying very, very, very hard to prove that she can do more than smirk and/or wear bikinis. Hudgens fares better when keeping quiet, and the second half — as Agnes finds herself in a home for wayward, pregnant teens (to make grim matters worse still, she’s also pregnant) — sees her calming down. She also cleans up, as did the real-life woman upon whom the film is based.

What follows makes for a heart-warming story but lousy drama, as one simply watches as a victim gets saved — and eventually prettied-up and de-face-piercinged — by circumstances well out of her control. Even with filmmaking that marries handheld camerawork to booming music, it’s afraid to really go into the brink. It’s a tale not of a dispassionate world punishing and devouring the downtrodden but of an unusually, uncommon, far too movie-like form of success.

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