“Short Term 12” opens up with a great scene featuring a supervisor from a group home for troubled teens telling a story involving a past patient to a new employee. We are dropped into this conversation as an observer and we get a brief introduction to the main characters. But without a moment’s notice the scene changes dramatically. A young boy bursts through the door and takes off towards the front gate. He’s screaming, waving his hands, and clearing he is deeply upset. The workers subdue him and the emotionally complex setting of “Short Term 12” is realized.
The movie is written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton who was inspired by his real-life experiences of working in a group home for teens. He first made this into a 2009 short film, but later developed it into a feature length picture. This was only Cretton’s second feature length movie which makes his accomplishment all the more impressive. You see, “Short Term 12” is a really good movie and much of its strength and potency can by traced back to Cretton’s pen and his raw use of the camera which perfectly captures the tone and intensity of his setting.
Brie Larson is unquestionably superb as the lead character Grace. She is a supervisor at the teen group home (called Short Term 12). She works alongside her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) to both mentor and council a group of teens with an assortment of problems. Along the way we are introduced to them and watch as Grace interacts with them on both procedural and personal levels. Larson’s performance blew me away and there is such a natural quality to what she’s doing as an actress and within the character she is portraying. We also get some interesting scenes between Grace and Mason away from the home. At first these moments seem flimsy but they really payoff later on as the story develops.
Grace never lacks control and she is a compassionate professional when it comes to taking care of these kids. But she is especially invested in a new resident, a troubled young girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever). This is where we see a different side and an interesting turn in Grace. There is a stunning and vivid dichotomy within her. She is a strong and determined woman, but she is also scarred and emotionally fragile. This adds an entirely new layer to the character and the film that I really responded to.
At no point does “Short Term 12” feel fabricated or overly melodramatic. There is a stinging realism that permeates the entire picture. It constantly draws out raw emotion from its characters and the situations and circumstances are believable and often times troubling. There are a couple of characters than dance dangerously close to stereotypes and their stories take some fairly predictable turns. But overall the film sucks you in and exposes you to truths about these teens and the people gifted with the patience and will to help them.
I tip my hat to Destin Daniel Cretton for crafting a movie that doesn’t lose itself in the typical Hollywood contrivances and forced melodrama that we get these days. I also applaud Brie Larson who not only showed she can act, but she gives an incredible performance that is grounded and always feels true. There are waves of emotions that flow throughout the movie and the story keeps you thoroughly invested. “Short Term 12” is another great example of the strength of independent cinema and the impact these films can have on the movie-making landscape.