Based on the inspiring true events, GIMME SHELTER centers on the courageous story of Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) and her incredible path to motherhood as a pregnant, homeless teenager. Forced to flee her abusive mother (Rosario Dawson), and turned away by her Wall Street father (Brendan Fraser), Apple finds herself on a desperate and isolated journey of survival. In the depths of despair, she meets a compassionate stranger (James Earl Jones), who ultimately leads her to salvation and unprecedented support in a suburban shelter for homeless teenagers. With gained confidence, and the warmth of her new home, Apple breaks from her inhibiting past, embracing the future with clarity and hope.
Hudgens’ immersed herself in the character and delivers a transformative and stunning performance. To prepare, she lived for weeks in pregnancy shelters, interacting with the young, homeless mothers who also appear in the film, completely altering her appearance unrecognizable.
Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical franchise) leads an all-star cast including James Earl Jones (The Great White Hope, Star Wars franchise), Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Trance), Stephanie Szostak (Iron Man 3, We Bought A Zoo), Emily Meade (Thanks For Sharing), Ann Dowd (Compliance, Side Effects) and Brendan Fraser (Crash, The Mummy). Also appearing in the film are several real life shelter mothers, their babies and Kathy DiFiore.
GIMME SHELTER opens in the U.S. on Friday, January 24, 2014.
It has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA with a running time of 101 minutes.
Website & Social Media for Gimme Shelter:
Film Website: www.GimmeShelterTheMovie.com (You can view the trailer for the movie at this sight.)
Twitter: www.Twitter.com/GimmeShelter (@GimmeShelter)
This movie earned its PG-13 rating in my opinion. I am not sure I would want my 14 year old to view it. The violent, angry, uncomfortable nature of the relationship between Apple and her mother is unsettling. There is a dark nature throughout the movie that weighs heavy on you while you watch.
Given the difficult nature of a very real situation, I would recommend this movie to the 18 and older set unless you the parent have seen the movie and feel you and your teen are ready to tackle the many topics touched on in this film. There are at least three instances of violence, including a slashing with a razor blade as well as teen pregnancy, drugs, prostitution, abandonment and more.
Having said all of that does not mean I did not find value in the movie. Based on a true story, Gimme Shelter offers a story of support and safety for trouble teen girls in need of a home, love, and guidance in order to rise above and find a way to thrive in a world that is shoving them down. Vanessa as Apple gives an eerie and powerful performance. I particularly love the back story of this shelter and the real life photos shown during the credits at the end. I highly recommend reading about the production below as it gives some great insight into the story and its characters.
About the Production of Gimme Shelter
Ron Krauss has been writing, producing and directing intensely personal movies since his first short film, Puppies for Sale (starring Jack Lemmon), began collecting rave reviews and international awards in 1998. Whether making documentaries or narrative films, Krauss’ focus is always on reflecting real-life issues with compassion, hope and authenticity. When his recent project, Amexica, a devastating drama about human trafficking, was screened at the United Nations, Krauss unexpectedly discovered the subject of his next film.
There he was introduced to Kathy DiFiore, a remarkable woman who was being honored at the UN for her work with teenaged mothers. Formerly homeless, DiFiore managed to put her life back together before founding Several Sources Shelters, a network of resources devoted to helping women in need. “I was immediately intrigued,” Krauss says. “I arranged to visit one of her shelters and I was awed by what I saw.”
At the shelter, Krauss met pregnant, homeless teenagers as young as 15 who had been turned out of their homes with nowhere to go. His initial thought was that he had found the perfect subject for his next documentary. Moving into the shelter to get an up-close look at the lives of these young women, their babies and the dedicated workers who support them, Krauss stayed a year and recorded close to 200 hours of interviews with the shelter’s residents.
As he learned more and more about his subjects, the compelling stories he heard fired his imagination and he began to reconceive his ideas about the project. “The shelter began to seem like holy ground to me,” he says. “As I became close to several of the girls and heard their stories, I began to write this screenplay based on their lives.”
Being at the shelter was a profound, even life-changing experience, says Krauss. “It opened my eyes. Just like the movie, I went from fall to winter, spring and summer with the girls. Even for me, staying there was one of the hardest times of my life. The girls who live there are relying on this place for survival.”
He witnessed first-hand how lives are changed through DiFiore’s work. “When I’d only been there a short time, I saw a young girl standing in front of the shelter,” the filmmaker recalls. “She didn’t have a coat and it must have been 18 degrees outside. I thought she lived there, so I let her in. When Kathy showed up, it turned out she wasn’t a resident. In fact, no one there knew her. She had heard about the shelter and walked about 25 miles to get there, with no coat and three months pregnant.”
Fortunately, there happened to be a bed available at the shelter. “All this time, she had been acting like everything was fine, but in reality she was desperate for a place to stay,” says Krauss. “When she heard there was room for her, she grabbed me and hugged me so hard she almost knocked me over. That hug was the inspiration for the movie.”
The girl, Darlisha Dozier, became one of the primary inspirations for Apple’s story. “Darlisha came from a very abusive home,” says Krauss. “There’s a shockingly violent incident in the movie between Apple and her mother that really happened to Darlisha. She has a small part in the film, as does a girl named Alison Bailey, who also provided inspiration for the character. The story is real and the girls are real.”
Another pivotal part of the story is Apple’s relationship with Tom Fitzpatrick, her biological father. The character is based on a real-life Wall Street executive whose young daughter is a resident at the shelter. “Teen homelessness and pregnancy are not limited to any economic strata,” observes Krauss. “It happens to rich and poor families. I felt those two characters embodied some of the most important things I learned.”
To ensure the film would be as authentic as possible, Krauss began to involve the girls themselves in the writing process. He scheduled “script nights” where they would read sections of the movie and share their thoughts on the story as it developed. “They helped me find the reality of their lives,” Krauss says. “They shared their deepest emotions about what it is to be homeless, to not know where you’re going to be tomorrow.”
When Krauss eventually showed his script to people in the entertainment industry, he was surprised by the overwhelming emotional response he received. “Homeless teens and crisis pregnancy are an unusual subject for a mainstream film,” he says. “I wasn’t sure anyone would care. In fact, there was enormous interest. Many young actresses saw this as a showcase for their talent. The character is in virtually every scene and goes through so much.”
While he was writing the script, Krauss says he never imagined casting a Hollywood star in the lead role. He had planned to scour local high schools in search of an unknown with the emotional transparency and resilience to embody Apple’s formidable spirit. But after meeting with Vanessa Hudgens, best known as perky A-student Gabriella Montez in the three High School Musical films, Krauss began to reconsider. “Vanessa was a little different from anyone else I met,” he says. “And she was hungry for the transition.”
In fact, the actress was so eager to play the part that she came to her audition in character as Apple. “I knew I could bring her to life,” Hudgens says. “It was an opportunity to completely transform myself. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see myself. The story, which is based on the lives a several young women who stayed at the shelter, is completely terrifying, which was all the more reason why I wanted to do it.”
Landing the role was just the beginning of a long and challenging journey for Hudgens. As Apple, she is a far cry from the actress and pop singer that her fans look up to. Drastically deglamorized, Hudgens is almost unrecognizable after adding about 15 pounds to her diminutive 5’1” frame. The only makeup she wears is designed to mask her wholesome beauty.
“I chopped all my hair off,” she says. “I had a neck tattoo with fake piercings and I wore baggy old clothes. When I walked around the building I lived in and no one recognized me, I started to get really excited about the role. The hardest thing was trying to stay away from paparazzi. I wanted the way I looked to be a complete surprise.’
To research the part, Hudgens eventually moved into one of the Several Sources Shelters, living side by side with the young women there for several weeks. “The girls really opened up to me and made me feel like I was one of them,” Hudgens says. “At first, it was a little rough; it was unlike anywhere I’d ever been. There are a lot of rules, like no cell phones were allowed. But I felt very welcomed by the girls and I love kids, so playing with them was heartwarming. In the end, all the pieces of the puzzle fell together in a beautiful way.”
Krauss warned Vanessa that living in the shelter was going to challenging in ways she couldn’t imagine. “It was a very difficult and emotional transformation,” he says. “But by the time we started shooting, I could only see Apple. In this movie, Vanessa gives one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen from an actress her age. It’s very bold and very honest.”
The actress also became very close to the girls she was living with, especially when they and their children joined the cast. “It was exciting for them to be a part of a movie, especially because the story is so personal for them,” she says. “For the movie, having some of the real people on hand added that extra vibe of authenticity.
“At the end of the day, we were all the same,” she says. “It was super humbling and taught me not to invest as much energy into material things. It also made me feel really grateful for what I have, especially my parents.”
Brendan Fraser, who plays Tom Fitzpatrick, the father Apple has never met, contacted Krauss after reading the script. “Brendan said he wanted to do the film, but he understood that he might or might not be the right person,” Krauss says. “He was the right person because he really believed in the project. He was always very gentle, considerate and compassionate, not just toward me as a filmmaker, but to everyone at the shelter. He even helped with the babies. On the last day of shooting, he quietly told Kathy that he was donating his salary to the shelter, so he actually did the movie for nothing. It was a complete surprise to all of us.”
Kathy DiFiore’s own story is as compelling as any film. A suburban wife and mother, she escaped an abusive marriage only to find herself homeless and on the street. Eventually able to reclaim her life, DiFiore’s recovery fueled a desire to help others turn their lives around. When she made her home a shelter for pregnant women, the State of New Jersey raided it and levied huge fines for running an illegal boarding house. A devout Catholic, she decided to reach out to none other than Mother Teresa.
“Together they fought the state and managed to change the law,” says Krauss. “Now she runs five shelters in New Jersey that give people a chance to get back on their feet by providing them with education and helping them get jobs. Her shelters are run 100 percent on donations, without any public funding, for 35 years now.”
Honored by three American presidents for her work, DiFiore has tried to maintain as much anonymity as possible, refusing frequent opportunities to appear on television and in print. “People from all different media have asked me to get involved in one thing or another,” DiFiore says. “But I never met anybody that I trusted before Ron. He is unique among the people I’ve met in the entertainment business. He sees the world from a different perspective.
“When I invited Ron to come and see the shelter, I was trusting him with the most precious thing in my life—these mothers and their babies,” she continues. “But he’s a really special person. He spent time with the moms and they really liked him. They would tell him things about their lives that they never told us, as if he was their brother. They even named him the Honorary Godfather of the shelters. They haven’t given that title to anyone else.”
Di Fiore was also recruited as the film’s “baby wrangler,” in charge of the almost two dozen infants and toddlers who appear in the movie. “All but one are from the shelter,” she says. “Some had gone home to be with their grandparents, so it was like a reunion.”
Simply changing the lives of the young women she is in direct contact with is not DiFiore’s ultimate goal. She hopes that her work will inspire others to reach out a helping hand as well. “I’ve had people from as far away as India and China contact me and I try to help them get started. I have even put together a kit to show them how to start a shelter and when anyone contacts me, I send them one.”
DiFiore’s work has far-reaching consequences, says Hudgens, and the movie will serve to spread the word more widely. “It will remind young women that they have choices,” she says. “And when we see someone like Kathy doing a great job serving others, we should recognize and honor them. We’re all in this together and when we embrace that we begin to come together as a community.”
Krauss is honored and touched that Kathy DiFiore allowed him to be one the first to highlight her work in such a public manner. He believes that DiFiore’s willingness to be involved in Gimme Shelter stemmed in part from the fact that the story is not about her. “It’s about the girls and the work of the shelters,” he says. “And once she committed she was completely there for us. A week before shooting, she had a 17-hour brain operation. When it was done, she used the nurse’s cell phone to call me and say, don’t worry, we can still do your movie. She really is a miracle and I am thrilled to be able to tell a story inspired by her work.”