No matter how inundated the summer movie season is with blockbusters and other giant tentpole films, it’s always a nice change of pace to see something like Short Term 12 come along and balance it out. The film has been making waves during its run on multiple film festival circuits, and almost every time someone has exited a screening, they had something overwhelmingly positive to say about it. Well it found its way into the LA Film Festival’s schedule, and after watching the film, it’s safe to say that it’s all true.
There is something to say about how authentic a film feels, you know this because the way the characters on the screen, the music, or the way the film is presented on a technical level makes you feel. Short Term 12 has all of that and more. Most of this is in fact due in part to director Destin Daniel Cretton‘s experience working at a short term foster care facility like the one in his film. Rather than just play it out like you average film, Cretton decided to shoot it in a semi-documentary style it, giving it a more natural feel that can create real emotions from both the actors and the audience. Hit the jump for the full review.
Brie Larson plays Grace, a supervisor for a short term foster care facility for at-risk youth appropriately named Short Term 12. From the moment she walks into the picture, you know that the film will be about Grace. The way she connects with the foster kids we see that she has a genuine affection for them, despite their short stays, and whatever rules and regulations the facility enforces. It’s really amazing to see how far someone like Larson has gone and evolved her career into what it is today. While she has been able to display great comedic timing and sharp wit in some of her previous roles, Short Term 12 is a great departure from what she has done in the past, and I say that as a positive thing. As happy of a face as she puts on as the foster kids’ care taker, inside she bares a kind of pain that can only be dulled by the kids. But that pain and the connection she builds are one in the same.
There to love her tenderly and take the blunt of her pain is her lover/co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). No matter how far she pushes Mason away or how hard she hits him when she goes through a phase, he is there to comfort her. He wants to take his relationship with her further, but not in a sense that you get from any other film with those cliches. Mason does so that she can move on from her dark past. But try as he might, Grace keeps pushing him away, choosing to use “work” as an outlet to be happy.
The supervisors of Short Term 12 aren’t there to be their parent, therapist, or doctor, they are there to give them a safe place to stay. In a sense, Short Term 12 is a community for these at-risk youth, each person who have their own stories of abandonment, abuse, and other sufferings. But the fact that they aren’t their to fix them, makes it all the more real. The supervisors share stories of successes and failures of teens who do manage to escape the facility. They aren’t suppose to touch them if they exit it, so they do whatever they can to get them back in, whether its driving to the next town or literally shitting in your pants.
What I liked about this is that Cretton, didn’t make this a completely dark film. Balancing out the darkness by uplifting it with light real-life humor that projected onto us by the stories of Short Term 12, newcomer Nate (Rami Malek), and the connections and community that Grace has built at the facility. It gives the audience a sense of hope that even though all these characters are suffering, there is a light for them. But this is what I mean by an emotional laugh, because, there will be times where you don’t know if it is okay to laugh or not. Whether or not you do laugh doesn’t matter, what matters is you feel for the characters.
That’s what makes this film so powerful. It’s so real and visceral. Perhaps the connection that Grace makes that is most geniuine, is the one that she forges with Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a new kid to the ward. Grace makes a profound connection to Jayden mostly because she can relate to what brought her to Short Term 12. As Grace tries to connect with Jayden and keep her safe, Grace herself starts to fall apart because she cannot save this girl due to the states’ rules and regulations.
Short Term 12 is really an amazing film, and to say that this is Larson’s breakout role is really diminishing the value of it. Not to say that there are roles in this film that are more important than others, because their isn’t. We already know the players and what drives them. As for the other characters, Cretton does a great job by establishing the back story of a character so effortlessly and without having to go too in depth. We see Marcus requesting to get his head shaved, and when the job gets done, he asks if there are still any lumps. We see Mason toasting his appreciation to his obvious adoptive parents. We get to see the history of a character explained very subtlety.
Cretton actually invests in these characters, leaving no stone unturned for any of them. That’s a rare kind of treatment you see from any director, and although this film isn’t meant to send a message that everyone in this world will be fixed and happy, it does give us hope that these people will work their asses off to make sure that everyone in Short Term 12 feels happy, safe, and for once, feel like they belong.
Cinedigm releases Short Term 12 on August 23.