Now the 25-year-old actress gets serious in the based-on-a-true-story drama “Gimme Shelter,” playing a pregnant 16-year-old runaway.
Hudgens, who also portrayed a runaway prostitute in last year’s “The Frozen Ground,” wears rage and fear upfront. In the opening shot, she hacks away haphazardly at her black hair, leaving a shaggy mop that falls into her face, helping her hide. Like an angry dog, she snaps at anyone who tries to get close, whether helpful or hateful.
As the story begins, she tries to escape her vile, cruel mother, played by Rosario Dawson with yellow teeth and a haggard, sinewy look.
Clutching a letter her biological father, Tom (Brendan Fraser), wrote to her before she was born, she renames herself Apple, based on its closing line.
Apple decides to find Tom, whom she has never met, hoping for help. She arrives at his opulent home and discovers he is a wealthy Wall Street trader with a wife and two younger kids. Learning she is pregnant, Tom insists she get an abortion. She dashes out of the clinic, gets into an accident and winds up in the hospital, where a friendly priest (James Earl Jones) helps check her into a shelter for pregnant teens.
Clearly this is an issue movie. Writer-director Ron Krauss shows Apple can’t take care of her baby — she eats out of a Dumpster and sleeps in the back of an unlocked car — but that’s no reason to get an abortion.
The religious dialogue isn’t overt, though Krauss distills it into the image of a pinwheel, to represent the way winds can change.
Unfortunately, the movie’s technique is rather poor. Apparently aiming for realism, the production actually looks sickly and bleached. Moreover, shots that don’t involve characters sitting in a room and talking — i.e., the ones with movement — are confusing.
“Gimme Shelter” gets its agenda across effectively, but many moments could have used a more graceful touch. At the same time, the drama lacks resonance, particularly with the presence of the rich father as a safety net.
Nevertheless, the movie will be worth watching for some viewers, given Hudgens’ and Dawson’s ferocious performances, hurling themselves at the story as if lives were at stake.
Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, Emily Meade, James Earl Jones
Written and directed by Ron Krauss
Running time 1 hour, 40 minutes