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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Gimme Shelter

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


James Earl Jones and Vanessa Hudgens star in a scene from the movie "Gimme Shelter."
Perhaps the best moment in the fact-based drama "Gimme Shelter" (Roadside) comes when its beleaguered, deeply sympathetic protagonist, played by Vanessa Hudgens, wonderingly recites a passage from the Book of Psalms that tells of God's promises to those who trust in him.

It's a moving scene precisely because such faith-based optimism seems so far removed from all that Hudgens' character, teenager Agnes "Apple" Bailey, has previously endured.

Long neglected by her drug-addicted, emotionally unstable mother, June (Rosario Dawson), Apple is also a veteran of numerous foster homes—in one of which, we eventually learn, she was sexually abused by the father of the family to which she had been entrusted.

As the film begins, Apple has understandably had enough of June's manipulative ways. So she flees the inner city, and seeks out her estranged, wealthy father, Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser), the owner of a luxurious mansion in an upscale New Jersey suburb.

Though taken aback by Apple's arrival Tom is at least tentatively willing to do his part for the girl. Apple gets a colder reception from Tom's wife, Joanna (Stephanie Szostak), who's intent on pursuing her ultra-respectable lifestyle undisturbed. (Tom and Joanna's two young kids look as though they've just stepped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog.)

Joanna's attitude grows even chillier when a bout of morning sickness tips all concerned off to the fact that Apple is pregnant. Both Joanna and Tom pressure Apple to have an abortion. But she insists on keeping her child, even if it means losing the security of her newfound refuge.

Back on the streets, Apple has an altercation with a predatory passerby that ends with her stealing—and crashing—the lowlife's car. This turns out to be a positive development because it brings her into contact with kindly hospital chaplain Father Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones).

Father Frank is, of course, wholeheartedly supportive of Apple's determination to preserve the life of her baby. He offers her the opportunity to take up residence with his redoubtable friend, Kathy (Ann Dowd), the founder of a home for expectant adolescents.

Modeled on Kathy DiFiore, who established just such a ministry—called Several Sources Shelters—in 1981, Dowd's character is gentle but firm, both with her charges and with any outsider who might threaten their welfare. Down-to-earth practicality, tough love and a belief in the need for structure characterize her approach.

Chaffing under such discipline, Apple finds herself tempted to escape it. But she simultaneously discovers a winning new aspect of life through her burgeoning friendship with the other moms-to-be.

A strong pro-life message obviously undergirds writer-director Ron Krauss' intermittently touching movie, which is also genuinely feminist, as witness the camaraderie cited above. And Hudgens' passionate performance provides the project with another important asset.

Yet, perhaps because fidelity to the facts has been prioritized over dramatic structure, the story unfolds at a deliberate pace that may be too leisurely for some viewers. Others may sense something approaching a documentary tone in this unhurried timing and the absence of artificial plot turns.

Whichever stance individual moviegoers may take toward Krauss' fictionalized account, the lifesaving reality standing behind it is worthy of universal support and celebration. The educational value and moral impact to be derived from the screen portrayal of this real-life work, moreover, allow for cautious endorsement of it for older teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains mature themes, including molestation, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and substance abuse, a scene of disturbing, though not gory, violence, at least one rough term and a handful of crass expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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