Friday, November 15, 2013

Short Term 12

Written and directed by Destin Cretton, Short Term 12 is a little rough around the edges but delivers a compelling tale of supervising staff members and kids at a foster care facility for troubled children and teens. Brie Larson stars as Grace, a supervisor with a troubled past which is reawakened by Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), the newest addition to the facility who reminds Grace of issues she's done her best to suppress over the years.

Limited to mostly the locations of the foster care facility and Grace's home with her boyfriend and co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), Cretton's film focuses on the challenges Grace and Mason face every day as well as Grace slowly going off the rails due to an unexpected pregnancy and raw emotions and memories Jayden's presence cause to resurface.

Cretton isn't interested in making a mainstream Hollywood film. There are no easy answers. No one is fixed or healed completely as the credits roll. But despite the subject matter the movie is far from bleak.

Short Term 12 is a film about survival without feeling the need to classify its subjects as victims or simple problems that need to be solved in 96 minutes. Are characters helped over the course of the story? Yes, but for all of them there's still quite a bit of work to do. Given the insider feel of the script, I'd be interested to know if Cretton has personal experience with facilities like this or, if not, what kind of research went into crafting the story.

Along with strong performances from Larson, Dever, and Gallagher, Cretton gets the best out of his young cast (Keith StanfieldLydia Du VeauxKevin HernandezAlex Calloway), making sure that each character is worth further study. Three or four are arguably worth films of their own. The movie also offers us a slightly different perspective with Rami Malek as the facility's newest supervisor whose initial gung-ho attitude is tempered by the harsh realities of the situations several of these kids are trying, and often at times failing, to deal with.

Bookended with a pair of humorous tales Mason shares his new colleague right before the crew is forced to jump into action to stop a runner from fleeing the facility, Short Term 12 runs the gamut of genuinely funny to heartbreaking sometimes in the same scene (such as Jayden's story of the octopus and the shark, or Marcus' rap about his mother) with relative ease. Cretton's film is an honest, and a times frightening and frustrating, look at the situations millions of kids go through every day as well as the struggles of those who devote their lives to making the kids' journey a little easier. It may not be a film for everyone, but those not put off by the language and subject matter that earn the movie its R-rating should certainly consider seeking it out.

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