Short Term 12 was originally released as a short film, one that won The Sundance Film Festival’s 2009 Jury Prize. Here we are four years later, and the film has been released as a feature full length that won both the Grand Jury Narrative Feature Award and the Narrative Audience Award this year at SXSW. Clearly, Destin Cretton, director and writer of both the short and the full length, knows what he is doing. Short Term 12 captures your attention wholesomely on both a critical level and a human level. It’s not only one of my favorite films of the year, but also one of my favorite. There is a difference, and its a rare feat to achieve, but one that Short Term captured with ease.
Brie Larson marvelously stars as Grace, a young woman who works as a supervisor at a short-term care facility for at-risk teenagers. These are kids who are often troubled, lost, and who have possibly suffered physical and sexual abuse from their parents or previous guardians. You have kids like Marcus (Keith Stanfield), who is about to turn 18, meaning that he is soon about to enter the world, with a fear of what comes next. Then there’s Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a girl who has trouble adapting to the facility, who is instantly trouble for Grace and the rest of the staff, but Grace instantly takes an interest with her and forms a connection.
Grace is amazing with the kids, connecting with them on a sincere personal level that makes her the best at her job. She is well liked, and fits in perfectly. She’s acts the parts of guardian, sibling, and friend all at once. She’s able to solve any problem. The only problems that she can’t quite solve are her own. She lives with Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) her boyfriend and fellow supervisor at the facility. Her ability to work things out doesn’t come quite as easy with him, or with herself. She has her own fair share of personal issues, and she doesn’t know what to do with them once the tables are turned. It’s a heartbreaking discovery, and one that plagues Grace throughout the film, especially as things constantly pop up at work, seemingly getting more severe and severe as the days pass.
We’re introduced to the facility through the eyes of a new worker named Nate (Rami Malek), who is used as a introductory guide of sorts by director Destin Cretton, who actually did work at a similar type of facility after graduating from college. Not that I would know what its like to work at such a place, but Cretton certainly makes it believable. He creates engaging and interesting characters by bringing them to life with a brilliant script with just enough humor and wit to balance out its heavy arsenal of drama.
There’s many characters that get their fair share of focus time during Short Term 12’s duration, but its done with so much care that they all work with a deft balance. It’s a large part due to the cast, which is incredible from top to bottom. Youngsters Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever are knockouts who both have bright futures ahead of them. I always enjoy seeing Rami Malek ever since seeing him in The Pacific. John Gallagher Jr. deserves applause for actually finding a way to play a boyfriend that is both caring but smart enough not to be a pushover, something we see too much of these days. But Brie Larson is the heart and soul of the film. The film just breathes through her performances. She is able to act calm and collected one minute and then act troubled and lost, just as much so, if not more than the kids that her character is supposed to be helping. It’s a doozy of a performance that deserves accolades and acclaims that should be well on the way. If you don’t connect with her or feel for her in any way, you need to check your soul.
Just as Grace does, we quickly learn to care about these characters, as if we are there taking care of them ourselves. There problems become ours, and our heart aches when they are hurt, or want to hurt themselves (which is a scary reality everyday for them). The film connects at an emotional level in a bold fashion that is riveting and touching at the very same time. Cretton is able to work just enough humor in the script to balance it all out, while also fleshing out the characters a little bit more.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a film more beautifully captured than Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12. Visually its captured in poetic motion that left me in awe. The acting and ensemble cast is full of bright young actors that will one day be taking over the big screen. With a good cast, tight script, and incredible script and direction, Short Term 12 is a marvel achievement that shows that if you put storytelling first, you can achieve true greatness.