Films like Short Term 12 are sometimes the toughest movies to write about. They make elaborate blockbusters like Inception look like a peanut. It’s just so easy to say Short Term 12 is great, recommend it profusely, and move on.
Destin Daniel Cretton’s film is about a foster care supervisor who is having difficulties expressing herself. She keeps emotions sealed tight and lets her empathy feel for her.
Instead of declaring Cretton’s film as a must-see superb character study within its strong independent filmmaking, let’s see if I can dig deeper and express myself a bit more about why this movie is so good.
The dramedy is the product of great writing, powerful performances, and sensitive direction. It’s also a film that is able to restrain itself from being only one form. What starts as a movie documenting a day-in-the-life of a foster care worker – who is also training a new member of her team – lets go of straightforward exposition and lets each character reveal themselves during privy moments.
It’s a movie that could’ve just as easily been a by-the-numbers inspirational tale of a teacher educating inner city kids while also learning more about herself. The perfect amount of these vibes are applied where necessary – most notably during group sessions in the centre. When the adults are interacting with the teens, the camaraderie feels very much as if its been lifted out of a summer camp. The dialogue is lively and quick, which leads to some surprising laugh-out-loud instance.
However, the relationships never get too cutesy or quirky, and we still believe in the authority when they’re put in a position to chastise or detain.
Brie Larson was last seen in the crowd pleaser Don Jon, where her role consisted of deadpan visual gags and about a paragraph of dialogue. Here, Cretton allows her to flex her acting chops in a leading role that’ll definitely put her on the map. Her ability to separate emotion from a sad situation reminds us of what we’ve seen Aubrey Plaza do. But, Larson goes deeper.
Larson is able to show us all sides of her character Grace. There are plenty of cutaways where Larson is given time to silently speak to the audience, and she succeeds tremendously. We figure out more about Grace through the events that unfold and her attachment to a new inductee to Short Term 12, Jayden. The immediate latch-on to Jayden feels a tad rushed at first, but her eagerness is later understandable since Grace hasn’t found anyone else like Jayden to relate to.
The rest of the cast – filled with relatively no namers and young fresh faces – hit home runs constantly. They’re all given their own moments to dig deeper and exude. One particularly memorable heartbreaker is when foster teen Marcus is trying out a new rap on supervisor Mason. The rap is one-take of raw feelings being spilled for the first time. It’s a window into Marcus’ mind through his own creativity. Marcus is played by Keith Stanfield and Mason is played by John Gallagher Jr., and they both submit sensational portrayals.
I would compare Short Term 12 to Half Nelson regarding its lo-fi style and the resonating characters in adult situations. It’s never a real downer, although it’s not afraid to make its audience well up. Destin Daniel Cretton’s film is a refreshing take on these characters and familiar film moulds that ultimately breaks outside the box and becomes its own wonderful work filled with exuberance. Short Term 12 could easily be one of 2013’s most talked about likeable indies.