First, a couple of complaints.
(Well, after all, I am a critic.) Great
title to this film. So why not get the
rights to the classic “Rolling Stones” 1969 song by the same title and use
it as a soundtrack? Yes, like the song
says, war is just a shot away, and love is just a kiss away.
Would have been a great context. The
second complaint is using a 24-year-old to play a 16-year old.
C’mon, Vanessa Hudgins was perfect for those “High School
Musical” roles when she really was high school age.
But if you’re going to make a movie about pregnant teenage runaways,
don’t you spoil some of the inherent poignancy by picking people who don’t
look quite as scared and vulnerable as a real teenager would?
Having said that, Vanessa Hudgins does,
in fact, deliver a memorably evocative performance as Agnes “Call Me
Apple” Bailey. It’s based on a true
story. Agnes is born to a mother who
was a pregnant teenager herself. June
Bailey (Rosario Dawson) is now, sadly, a drug addict, and probably a hooker,
also (though thankfully we don’t see her turning tricks).
Agnes “Call Me Apple” is tired of the marginal living and abusive
circumstances, and takes off to try to find her Dad.
Tom Fitzpatrick (Brendan Fraser) was just a recent high school graduate
when he impregnated June, and his parents quickly shipped him off to college
and told him to forget about the whole thing. So
he sent a letter to his yet-unborn daughter trying to apologize, and that’s
the only thing she has from him. Along
with a high school yearbook photo.
Well, Agnes “Call Me Apple” does, in
fact, find her Dad, but it turns out that now he’s a successful Wall Street
guy who lives in
with his lovely wife and two little children, and he’s completely stunned
when Apple shows up in his life. She
looks a little worse for wear right now: hair
in her eyes, nose ring, lip ring, neck tattoo, sullen attitude.
A true Rebel Without A Cause. Tom’s
stuck-up young wife, Joanna (Stephanie Szostak) wants no part of this, and
Tom, of course, is stuck in the middle. Worse
still, Apple now finds out she’s pregnant. By
someone who’s no longer in her life.
Apple hits bottom when she tries to
steal someone’s car and wrecks it, waking up handcuffed to a hospital bed.
But there she meets the first person who shows her a little kindness,
Father Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones), the hospital chaplain.
Through his gentle persistence, Apple reluctantly agrees to live in a
local shelter for pregnant teenagers that was established 20 years before by
Kathy (Ann Dowd), who was once herself a homeless runaway.
There, at last, Apple finds some acceptance, and a place where she
belongs, and some actual friends. It’s
a transforming experience for her.
So is actually having the baby, a
wrenchingly emotional scene that will bring tears to the eyes of even the most
stoic viewer. Apple names her baby girl
“Hope,” and now she seems much more like a person prepared to take on the
responsibility of being a single Mom (gradually she’s shed the face rings
and fixed her hair and started wearing makeup).
Yes, it’s all tied up a little too
neatly at the end, because the realist/cynic would say that she still has no
way to support herself or provide for her baby.
But her transformation/redemption feels like a triumph, anyway.
This one will generate all the right-to-life/abortion debates, as well
as about welfare programs (including aid for dependent children), extended
family responsibility, etc. etc. It
will also remind us believers of how Christian it is to welcome home the
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,