For months now, my colleagues (and sometimes myself) have been singing the praises of a little film called Short Term 12. Honestly, you could almost throw a rock and hit a writer who’d either seen it at a festival or an early screening and just had to tell you how great it was. I was subjected to that for a while until I saw it back in May (I was asked to hold my review until the week of release) and let me tell you…they’re all right to be giving you the hard sell on it. I hinted at how much I was a fan of Short Term 12 in my piece here on the best of the first half of the year, but now I can really get into why writer/director Destin Cretton has crafted something truly special. As strong as his filmmaking it, the real highlight of the picture is the lead performance of Brie Larson, who’s downright awards worthy in the lead role. The supporting cast is top notch too, namely John Gallagher Jr. and Kaitlyn Dever, but it’s just a near perfect mix of everything that makes this such a great movie. It really is something special, I can assure you of that.
The film (which is a feature length expansion of Cretton’s short from a few years ago) is set in a foster care facility for troubled teens and focuses on the lives of a few staff members. The main character for us is Grace (Larson), who is one of the more senior supervisors there, along with her boyfriend Mason (Gallagher Jr.) and newbie Nate (Rami Malek). For Grace, she really believes in what she’s doing and does it to the best of her abilities, but life is about to get more complicated for her. Outside of the facility, she and Mason have some decisions to make, but inside the facility, a new girl named Jayden (Dever) proves to be a very special case. She’s a tough nut to crack, but she also has a connection with Grace that surprises them both. From there, we pretty much just follow the day to day goings on here, looking at many of the other teens under their care. The themes of the movie aren’t too difficult to see, but the film works on more than just that superficial level. You really get invested in these characters, so much so that you really don’t want this flick to end.
It takes a little bit before you really start to appreciate Brie Larson’s lead performance, but by the time the end credits roll, she’s completely won you over. This is a subtly moving piece of acting by the talented young Larson, easily her career best so far. She’s our main protagonist, but a lot of the time you see her through the eyes of others. Her shining moments however are when you get to really find out what’s going on inside her head. It’s a complex performance and never showy, but always incredibly compelling. In a just world, she’d be in the conversation for a Best Supporting Actress nomination. It almost certainly won’t happen, but she deserves it. Her co-stars are very good too, especially John Gallagher Jr. as her patient co-worker/boyfriend. Rami Malek is used sometimes for comic relief, but he’s solid for sure. The best supporting player though if Kaitlyn Dever, who’s got perhaps the hardest role to pull off, but boy does she ever. It pays to not say too much about her character, but Dever nails it. Also on hand are Keith Stanfield, Franz Turner, and Melora Walters, among others, but Larson is the breakout star here.
Deston Cretton has crafted a touching movie about many things, but one of the themes I kept coming back to was scars, both internal and external. The teens and the adults both have scars, and the locations of them are sometimes not where you’d expect them. The slow reveal of this speaks to Cretton’s talents both as a writer and as a director. The screenplay sidesteps almost all of the cliches that could have popped up, while his direction really puts you right there in the thick of things. The camera is never overtly shaky and the pacing is nearly perfect. More than anything else though, he should be praised for how he was able to get these performances out of his actors. Cretton deserves to have a lot of opportunities coming his way from his.
In the end, Short Term 12 quite simply lives up to the hype folks. I may have known this for a few months, but that doesn’t make it any less true. For Brie Larson’s performance alone, this is a must see to me, but the entire package is consistently compelling. The film is in my Top Ten for the year so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it remained that way throughout the rest of 2013. The movie is just that good…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!