What happens when a teenager who came into the world as an unplanned teenage pregnancy ends up with an unplanned pregnancy of her own? Will she bend to all the “helpful” insistence that she needs to exercise her “right to choose” before she is, as one callous presidential contender put it, “punished with a baby”?
This is the plot of “Gimme Shelter,” a new movie that departs from the feminist pack mentality of Hollywood. Agnes “Apple” Bailey -- played in a breakout role by “High School Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens -- looks like a poster child for Planned Parenthood at the film’s beginning: sixteen years old, down and out after living in a series of foster homes, and now living with a drug-addicted mother who sometimes beats her.
As the story begins, she walks out on her mother and goes hunting for her father, who is now a wealthy stockbroker. She asks her father, who has not seen her since she was a baby, for a place to stay temporarily. When she discovers she is pregnant, her father’s wife drives her to the abortion clinic. It is there that she simply cannot bring herself to accept the “choice” that her parents avoided and made her (fairly miserable) life possible.
Women who choose abortion can easily rationalize about the miserable lives their children might have lived. Teenage girls in this crisis can easily see a baby as an almost life-ending event – but it’s possible to see even bad choices turn into promising lives. It’s possible to squeeze the lemons and make a terrific lemonade.
It’s amazing that this film has been made, and more amazing that it’s studded with stars -- not only Hudgens, but Rosario Dawson as her mother, Brendan Fraser as her father, and James Earl Jones as a friendly and patient Catholic priest. (How many of those have we seen in the movies lately?)
After Agnes crashes a potential abuser’s car and ends up in the hospital, she meets Father Frank. With the childhood that she’s endured, it’s understandable that Agnes isn’t the most receptive prospect for a God-loves-you message. But she agrees to move into a home for unwed mothers that can help her have her baby. The journey will not be easy – her drug-addict mother wants to pull her out of the home – but in the shelter, Agnes finally finds a home -- with strangers who are in the same jam that she’s in.
Inspired by the real-life story of Kathy DiFiore, the founder of Several Sources Shelters, writer and director Ronald Krauss wrote his original screenplay while spending a year in a shelter for pregnant teens, and based it on the lives of several of the shelter mothers.
Krauss wasn’t the only one who was inspired. Brendan Fraser asked to be in the movie after reading the script and spent time in the shelters with the mothers and the babies. On the last day of shooting, Krauss said Fraser “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.”