Thursday, January 23, 2014

Two very different teen stories

Anyone who regularly attends movies has more than a passing familiarity with adolescence, but Maidentrip -- a documentary about the round-the-world solo sailboat voyage made by 14-year-old Laura Dekker -- brings a new dimension to adolescent adventure. After Dekker and her father won a court battle aimed at stopping the youngster's journey, she set sail in her boat, Guppy. Director Jillian Schlesinger, working with footage that Decker took during her voyage, presents a somewhat fragmented chronicle of Decker's travels. To be fair, Dekker had plenty of other things on her mind during her 17-month-long journey besides recording her trip. Mostly, Dekker was isolated, but during her trip, she spent time with an older couple on their own sailing expedition. She also toured various ports in which she stopped for breaks. Of course, she sometimes was called upon to navigate treacherous waters. Would I allow a 14-year-old embark on such a voyage? No. I think 14 is too young to decide to risk one's life. Did I think that Schlesinger may have been a little too accepting of Dekker's mission? Yes. Was I caught up in the story, even though I already knew its outcome? You bet. The sheer audacity of Decker's achievement makes Maidentrip worth seeing.

Another kind of teen story

The movie Gimmme Shelter tells another kind of teen story. In it, Vanessa Hudgens, who worked against her High School Musical image in Spring Breakers, continues to chart grungy new territory. This time, Hudgens plays Agnes, an unruly 16-year-old who's pregnant and at odds with her drug-addicted and abusive mother (Rosario Dawson).

On the run, Agnes seeks out her biological father, a well-heeled stock broker played by Brendan Fraser, who seems entirely baffled about how to deal with the daughter he abandoned.

Fraser's character is now married to prim and proper Joanna (Stephanie Szostak), and has two additional children. Joanna has difficulty accepting Agnes, who goes by the nickname Apple.

Director Ron Krauss hasn't exactly made an overt piece of pro-life propaganda, but his movie suffers from a lack of character nuance and it certainly stacks the deck in favor of Apple having a baby.

Apple, who refuses to have an abortion despite Joanna's urging, eventually finds her way -- with help from a clergyman (James Earl Jones) -- to a home for pregnant teens. There, she gradually sheds her punk image and turns into a potential mom. Say goodbye to the nose and lip rings.

The shelter is run by Kathy (Ann Dowd), a Catholic woman whose pro-life position (thankfully) isn't over-emphasized.

Best part of the movie: A convincing Dowd (based on a real-life character) and the young women Apple meets at the shelter.

Hudgens' performance tends to be unmodulated, and at times, the movie sounds like an ad for the shleter. Some of the scenes -- particularly those involving Dawson -- are rendered in a harsh, bruising style that struck me as attempts to sell us on the movie's commitment to realism.

A better drama would have found room for scenes that amplified Apple's plight, possibly adding a real discussion between Apple and her father about the wayward 16-year-old's ability to be a competent parent. The movie also might have addressed questions about how Apple -- who seems intelligent but has no demonstrable skills -- intends to support her child. And the fact that Hudgens is 25 -- and doesn't look 16 -- makes it easier to accept the idea that she's ready for motherhood.

Although it isn't pedal-to-the-metal propaganda, Gimme Shelter didn't strike me as a movie that wants us to give any thought to alternatives for Apple.

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