Every now and then a film will come along that manages to bring together all of its discrete ingredients and be something greater as a whole, as well as be a total punch to the gut. That’s the best way I can describe Short Term 12. Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton brings us a film that is emotionally honest above all else, allowing the story to wash over the audience in an affective way without relying on melodrama.
Grace (Brie Larson) supervises a foster care facility for at-risk teens with her boyfriend (John Gallagher, Jr.). It is a facility where kids are supposed to stay for no more than a year, but often will stay much longer. The young staff supervise the kids’ day-to-day lives, while therapists attempt to help them. One of those kids is Marcus (Keith Stanfield), on the cusp of turning 18, struggling with his imminent release from the program. He is intense and quiet, but his rap lyrics betray his tragic past. Grace begins to form an intense bond with newcomer Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), sensing a connection just beneath the surface. The film shows Grace’s life both at work and home, showing the extreme emotions and circumstances she must deal with in her professional and work life.
Larson gives an astounding performance in the film, giving Grace a depth that is readily apparent, but never strays into caricature. She and the film are both constructed like an onion, with many layers peeled back over the course of the film. Short Term 12 is in part a dramatic exploration of the kind of person attracted to working with at-risk teens, and moreover that the mental hardships from abuse aren’t something that can be cured. The mental scars are there, and while not visible with the naked eye, can have longer lasting damage than the physical ones.
While Larson anchors the film, the entire rest of the cast does an amazing job as well. They are warm and expressive, and I was completely enamored by all of the characters, bolstering the lived-in feel of the script. While the film may feel slow-paced at times, since it gives off the “slice of life” feel, there is a lot more payoff than I was anticipating.
I am completely blown away by this film, easily one of the best of the year. Cretton’s strong voice and thoughtful perspective shine through pervasively, making Short Term 12 a special and personal film, and one that I can’t recommend highly enough.
Short Term 12 opens in the Philly area today.