Review: Short Term 12 (2013)

Short Term 12

Rating

Director
Destin Cretton
Screenplay
Destin Cretton
Length
96 min.
Starring
Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Alex Calloway, Kevin Hernandez, Lydia Du Veaux, Keith Stanfield, Frantz Turner, Diana Maria Riva
MPAA Rating
R for language and brief sexuality

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Review
Being institutionalized for any reason, absent parents, abusive home life, anger management issues, puts a terrible strain on the caregivers. Short Term 12 looks at how a damaged woman focuses her own experiences into attempting to help those who share a common history.

Brie Larson demands our attention as Grace, a loving, careful counselor at a short term care facility. Larson is compassionate, fierce and fractured, balancing the delicate emotions with a master’s hand. Her own hellish past informs her future when teenager Jayden (a superb Kaitlyn Dever) is dropped at the facility because her father cannot handle her destructive behavior. Flashes of her past emerge at a time when she and her boyfriend (John Gallagher Jr.), also a counselor at the facility, are about to embark on a new and difficult portion of their own journey, causing her to question whether she’s ready for it.

Destin Cretton adapts and directs his own short film of the same name, creating a lengthier, more in-depth look at life inside the residential care facility. His deft handling of the subject matter suggests and familiarity with the topic that few others could possess. His directorial hand is assured, confident and largely free of the types of flourishes that often mar such films.

Ostensibly, the film is about Grace and the reflection of her she sees in Jayden; however, there are other children in the facility who demand attention and we’re given a compelling look at the relationships established between other troubled teens that range from hostile to compassionate. Each performance is a key part of the framework, building on the narrative in fascinating ways. Alex Calloway plays Sammy, a young man suffering from separation anxiety who refuses to relinquish some elements of his childhood; Keith Stanfield gives passion and heart to Marcus who wants to one day begin a rap career but must first overcome his feelings of abandonment and loneliness; Kevin Hernandez is the confident Luis, a brash foil for Stanfield’s Marcus. These are all young actors whose performances outshine many of their adult contemporaries. Cretton’s guidance is invaluable to that.

Gallagher Jr. takes a back seat to Larson for much of the film, giving hisco-star ample opportunity to explore while providing able support. His performance is every bit as assured as hers, but is so subtly so that it plays handily into his character’s permissive, loving and supportive personality.

It cannot be said enough, but Larson is one of the most gifted talents to emerge in the last decade. This is a brilliant, subtle performance that deserves far more praise than it has received. Her character’s name isn’t just a name, it’s a descriptor of her abilities. Were it not for her gorgeous work, Short Term 12 would suffer.

It’s difficult for anyone who hasn’t been in this type of environment, either as a youth or as a counselor, to fully comprehend, but there’s a frankness to the story that showcases the level of dedication and support these professionals and non-professionals alike give to their chosen career. They come from dark places that help them relate to the damaged children inside these kinds of facilities. The film is about both the children and the caregivers, giving us unprecedented emotional connections to the inhabitants of the narrative. There’s a level of authenticity here that cannot be easily replicated. For that alone, Short Term 12 deserves effusive praise.

Hopefully, a film like Short Term 12 can not only be used as an educational tool for those who might want to pursue a career in this field, but may provide understanding and support for youths already in these facilities. It also acts as a showcase to the world that children are stronger than we think, but just as easily destroyed. Short Term 12 highlights the notion that through persistance, love and encouragement an injured child can one day become a foundation for others.
Oscar Prospects (created prior to Oscar nominations)
Potentials: Original Screenplay
Unlikelies: Actress (Brie Larsen)
Review Written
February 18, 2014

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