Starring Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever and Keith Stanfield
Destin Cretton’s first narrative feature film, SHORT TERM 12, an adaptation of his 2008 short of the same name, is a wonderful film that explores not only the lives of troubled youths, but also those who look after them. The film won the Audience Award at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, and it is easy to see why. This dark comedy is one of the most honest, heartbreaking films to be released in quite some time.
Grace (Brie Larson, HBO’s “The United States of Tara”) is a young woman who supervises a facility for difficult foster care children, called Short Term 12. Amongst those who work with Grace, are her longtime boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr., HBO’s “The Newsroom”) and newcomer, Nate (Rami Malek, THE MASTER). As the film begins, we are introduced to the rules and daily activities at the facility, which include keeping all doors open and having morning meetings. As the film progresses, the main focus shifts to Grace, who is just as unsettled as the young people she watches over. While Grace encourages those living at the facility to be open about their emotions, she rarely does so with anyone herself, including her boyfriend. Grace’s outlook changes when a teenage girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives at her door, and presents many of the same issues that Grace struggles with. Larson’s dynamic and extremely honest portrayal of Grace is one of the best performances I’ve seen this year and is one of the best things about SHORT TERM 12. Larson has been getting plenty of work as of late, having previously made memorable marks in films as diverse as THE SPECTACULAR NOW, DON JON and 21 JUMP STREET. With SHORT TERM 12 though, Larson is finally beginning to get the recognition she deserves and could find herself breaking out into a whole new level come awards season.
Cretton, who also wrote the film, has stated that the screenplay is based on his own experiences working in a similar role with foster kids. He has also stated that Grace’s character is based on someone he knows. These real life factors surely helped him write this wonderful, genuine screenplay. Not only is Grace’s character extremely well-rounded, most, if not all, of the supporting characters are as well, which is rare for a novice writer. Some of the greatest performances come from the young kids living at Short Term 12. Some of the standouts include Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a young man about to turn eighteen and leave the facility, Luis (Kevin Hernandez), a boy who knows just how to push Marcus’ buttons, and Sammy (Alex Calloway), a silent, young boy, who has made a game out of his numerous attempts to escape the grounds of Short Term 12. Collectively, this fresh ensemble brings a great deal of authenticity to the table.
While often quite heartbreaking, SHORT TERM 12 is also funny, making for a complete and endearing film experience. That being said, Cretton never makes light out of a serious situation, keeping the drama and the comedy separate, and clearly defined. SHORT TERM 12 is undoubtedly one of the best indie films of the year, with one of the year’s best performances from Brie Larson. So give yourself two hours and have at stay at Short Term 12; I promise you’ll never want to leave.