It’s very difficult for me to decide what to say about Short Term 12. It’s rare that a review not simply pour out of me, but that is only a compliment to the film. Leaving the film, I felt… dazed. Unsure what to feel, still reeling from the experience. I’ll do my best to describe what I enjoyed about the film, but more than anything, I want to simply tell you to SEE IT! Now, on to my review.
Short Term 12 is about a young manager of a short care facility for troubled teenagers, Grace, played with complete immersion and sensitivity by the always wonderful Brie Larson. As she emphatically states to a newcomer employee, they are not friends, parents, or therapists – they are meant simply to provide a safe environment for the children under their protection. it becomes clear quickly, however, that the lines are very much blurred for her in that regards. It is revealed that she has abuse in her past herself, which both shows why she works so tirelessly for the children in the foster home, and why she she has such a hard time acclimating to the idea of becoming a parent herself. It occurs to me now that the title of the film may also be a reference to the early stage of her pregnancy.
She is helped through this by Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), a boyfriend who is very nice and supporting, but ultimately has a hard time penetrating her inner world – largely because Grace has such a difficult time letting him in. The foster home itself is populated by a whole group of very real-seeming children, some more troubled than others. None of them are stereotyped at all – while you may think you get what archetype they fit in early on, the characters do possess the ability to surprise the viewer. A character you may think is well-adjusted may offer a deeper well of trouble than you thought possible. In fact, one gets the sense that the characters whose problems is not shown explicitly are having no less of a hard time.
All of the wonderful actors are helped enormously by the wonderful script by Destin Cretton, whose previous feature, I Am Not A Hipster, I have never heard of. Short Term 12 is shot in the hand-held style that is so common in independent cinema that it may occasionally be trite. Cretton imbues it, however, with style and careful selection of shots, keeping it from going down the path of haphazard, unclear, random cinematography that often troubles other films shot in a similar style. This helps establish the movie as a cinematic experience, while simultaneously feeling so close to life.
There is no great victory or adventure shown in this film, and what victories are shown can only be viewed in the context of the characters lives as temporary moments of respite. While there is a central storyline, in Markus (Lakeith Lee Stanfield) leaving after turning 18, and the arrival of Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), both of whom are experiences difficulty in their relationship with their parents and the foster home itself in different ways. Ultimately, however, as the ending illustrates beautifully (by mirroring almost completely the opening scene) the never-ending nature of the battle the workers must fight on a daily basis. Grace cannot be passive in her job, she truly gives the care of the teenagers her all, trying to save herself in proxy. The film is simply wonderfully human and warm, and (though I do not always place huge premium on this), feels completely genuine. There is sentimentality here, to be sure, but it does not even approach the territory of fake melodrama. Short Term 12 is cinema, and life, in one.