Short Term 12 is an honest portrait that captures humanity at its best and worst.
Back in March of 2013, I saw a little independent film called Short Term 12 at SXSW and since that intial screening this film has stuck with me throughout the entire year. This film, which so few have heard about, is something truly special and a remarkable feat in independent filmmaking. For those who know me or have been following my reviews for years, probably know that I am one critical bastard when it comes to film and rarely hand out high praises for a film. This includes films that almost everyone else claims to be the “best film of the year” but with Short Term 12, I can honestly say that this film is not getting nearly attention it truly deserves. This was clearly a work of passion made on a shoe-string budget yet somehow manages to deliver some of the most powerful performances of the year.
Now, before I go into how much I adored this film, let me give you a brief overview of the plot. Grace (Brie Larson) is a passionate woman that works in a foster care unit for trouble teens. Each and everyday at the facility is something new and unexpected. One day, a girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is placed in the hands of Grace and with much curiosity Grace is determined to connect with Jayden and figure out just why she is at Short Term 12.
The above plot description is really only a brief piece of the actual story that is told within Short Term 12’s 96 minute run-time. The story has multiple layers and feels as if 98% of what you are watching on-screen is real. With that being said, this might not be an easy watch for a lot of people. The story is told in a way that many would say is really depressing and Destin Cretton‘s direction captures the emotions of these characters in a way that feels extremely raw and powerful. While the story isn’t the happiest at times, the characters themselves are all likable. Cretton incorporates moments of lightheartedness into the feature allowing the audience to have a chuckle here and there while the story is exploring several serious topics that range from child molestation to suicide.
The script is nearly flawless as it crafts a story that while being realistic, never goes too far or becomes too pushy with its point. The story allows the audience to clearly identify with the characters and see what is going in their minds. It probably has been said before but the performances mixed with the script make you feel at times like you are a voyeur looking into the private lives of these characters.
I have been a fan of Brie Larson ever since I first saw her on the Showtime series United States of Tara back in 2009. In that show, Larson had this quality that I rarely see in young actresses nowadays. She can act, has a lot of range as an actress, and is good looking. Brie Larson is definitely a trifecta all the way. I can say with no hesitance that her performance in Short Term 12 is her best work to date and is 100% Oscar worthy. While there are several others within the film and they are all damn good mind you, it is Larson, who carries this film and is absolutely flawless. Her emotions, her mannerisms such as various scenes where she is picking at her fingers because she has anxiety, and the things that she is dealing with at home and at work are all things that I feel so many people deal with daily. Grace is a character that isn’t glamorized in anyway, but instead an honest portrait of a woman in her 20’s with real problems.
Alongside Larson, you have an amazing supporting cast that includes way too many people to name so I will just focus on about three of them in order to keep this review from turning into a thesis. The first is John Gallagher Jr. who plays Grace’s co-worker and boyfriend, Mason. Gallagher as Mason serves not only as the guy who really wants to support and understand Grace, but he also provides the film with several of its lighthearted moments. He is a key character to this story because just like Grace, he cares a lot about his job and the children at the facility. It also should be noted that the chemistry between Larson and Gallagher is impeccable.
As for the others that I feel deserve an honorable mention, well that would be Kaitlyn Dever (Jayden) and Keith Stanfield (Marcus). Jayden and Marcus are the two troubled teens who get the most screen time and story in Short Term 12. I will admit that when I first watched the film, I really overlooked the Jayden character but upon my re-watching of the film, I realize how much of a significant impact she has to the story as well in shaping Grace. Dever captures the trouble teen not only by looking the part but also with her angry fits of rage that happen throughout the film along with her emotional conversations with Grace. It is rare to see someone so young and new to the acting game nail a role like this on the head. As for Stanfield, I just felt like this character served as a realistic portrayal of the teenager that is typically in a foster care environment. Top that with his passion and anger as Marcus, I really think Stanfield hit the nail on the head in his portrayal.
I can safely say that Destin Cretton is a director and writer that will only continue to go places in the film world especially since he is working with Jennifer Lawrence with his next film. It is truly amazing how skilled Cretton is not only as a writer, but as a director. The use of shaky cam mixed with close ups really worked in capturing these characters and the story that he was trying to convey. As I stated previously, the entire film feels like it is a real portrait of these lives unfolding right in front of our very eyes and while it has a lot to do with the performances, it wouldn’t have been as powerful without Cretton in the director’s chair.
All in All, while this is not a film that will be easy for most to find, I do highly recommend that you try your very hardest to track down this film. It is something truly special that packs an emotional punch. I absolutely adore this film and maybe its because my family helped raise foster children and I connected with several of the characters within this film, but more importantly, I think its because this is an example of independent film-making at its best. This is everything a great indie film should be complete with Oscar worthy performances, a terrific story, and solid direction. I applaud everyone involved with this film and I can only hope that this film gets some love this award season.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Short Term 12 is a 9.5 out of 10. This is hands down one of the year’s best films.