Short Term 12
2013, 96 mins
Short Term 12 is, quite simply, one of the best films of the year. An engrossing drama with moments both touching and funny, it’s a confident debut from writer/director Destin Daniel Crettin. The film follows Grace (Brie Larson, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses) who dedicates her life to helping at-risk kids and teens at an undermanned facility, with the help of her (secret) boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr., charming) and a small staff. The film picks up on new employee Nate’s first day (Rami Malek, always good) who is quickly overwhelmed by the bevy of troubled youth at the center. Grace keeps a level head and advises him “You kind of have to be an asshole before you can be their friend.” Things change for Grace the day a fifteen year old girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever, from Justified) is admitted, who has bounced around from facility to facility due to violent behavior. The two have more in common than one would suspect, as Grace has a troubled past of her own.
What could easily have been overly sentimental, manipulative and categorized as an after school special is instead a magical film full of magnificent, small moments that are at once powerful and affecting. Abuse is major theme here, and its dealt with in a realistic and many-sided way. As we get to know the characters, which are carefully drawn and complex, we can identify with their frustrations and empathize with their troubles, even if we can’t draw from personal experience. Particularly effective is a sub-plot with a black teen named Marcus, who is about to turn 18 and be released from the center. Smart, poetic, but tormented by his past, he spills his soul in one particularly powerful scene through his lyrics. Played with brimming intensity by Keith Stanfield, you can’t help but to pull for this kid to tame his demons. At the center of it all is Grace, who might be the most wounded of them all — who Brie Larson personifies to absolute perfection. It’s a film that will stick with you long after you see it, and should garner some well-deserved attention come awards season. It’s in limited release, so you may need to do some sleuthing to find a theater showing it, but it’s well worth the journey.