Review: Short Term 12
PLOT: Grace (Brie Larson), the young supervisor at a youth-care facility, struggles to help her young charges, as well as come to terms with her own abusive past, while trying to maintain a relationship with a co-worker (John Gallagher Jr.).
REVIEW: After playing to unanimous raves at SXSW this spring, Destin Crettonís SHORT TERM 12 finally hits theaters this weekend. Itís riding a wave of critical plaudits, the latest of which saw star Brie Larson win the best actress prize at the Locarno Film Festival. Does it deserve all the acclaim?
Without a doubt.
SHORT TERM 12 is easily the best indie film Iíve seen all year, better even than THE SPECTACULAR NOW ad THE KINGS OF SUMMER. Shockingly, it didnít play Sundance, but no matter, this is the kind of movie thatís impossible to ignore.
The kind of place depicted in SHORT TERM 12 is a reality, with kids often being left there in a kind of limbo, either being between foster homes, or left by parents who simply canít deal with them (although this is not juvenile detention- the staff are not allowed to physically stop them from leaving). Brie Larson seems like a dark horse Oscar prospect, with this being a star-making performance if Iíve ever seen one. While only in her early twenties, Larsonís been around for years with parts in SCOTT PILGRIM (who could forget her singing Metricís ĎBlack Sheepí) as well as this yearís SPECTACULAR NOW and DON JON.
Her character is the kind of rich, three-dimensional part that makes careers. Grace is tough but compassionate. She doesnít take any crap from her charges, but sheís also playful with them, waking them each morning with a super-soaker full of water, and going to bat for them with her boss, whoís more interested in his expensive new lamp than whatís going on in his facility. Having suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her imprisoned father, she has first-hand knowledge of what these kids are going through. But, rather than put up an icy exterior, all she wants to do is help, although sheís less successful with her personal life. She keeps her nice-guy boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.- from THE NEWSROOM- very likable) a fellow worker at the facility, at an armís length. Once she gets a new charge, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) who she suspects is also being abused, her repressed anger starts to remerge, and Larsonís never less than incredible.
Be warned though, a good chunk of SHORT TERM 12 is heartbreaking, even more so due to the fact that itís so damn realistic. Whether itís Marcus (Keith Stanfield) whoís about to be evicted due to his upcoming eighteenth birthday, or Jaydenís incredibly sad, chilling story about an Octopus that loses its tentacles (a metaphor for her own abuse), SHORT TERM 12 puts you through the wringer.
Whatís even more impressive is that director Cretton manages to make you feel this way without relying on anything that could be considered manipulative or clichť. The aesthetic is minimalist, from the music, to the gritty DV photography. Thereís also precious little speechifying, or melodrama. Ever tear is earned.
However, SHORT TERM 12 is- mercifully- not a downer. If anything, itís a hopeful film as it suggests that while resources might be scarce, there are lots of people like Larsonís Grace, who do care, and can help. It eventually winds up being pretty uplifting and inspiring, and like the best work about social issues (THE WIRE) it never preaches or wags its finger at the audience. Of course, itís also one hell of a triumph for all involved, and one of the best films of the year (so far) that would be at home with the best stuff I saw at TIFF or Sundance.