Thursday, August 29

Short Term 12 Review

Short Term 12
Dir: Destin Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., and Kaitlyn Dever

There are moments in “Short Term 12”, a film set in an adolescent group home, that feel sincere and authentic in a way that is both accidental and deliberate at the same time. This aspect is in part due to director Destin Cretton’s own life experience, but also his skillful rendering of the characters and atmosphere in the film. Both the staff and the young people being cared for are wounded, in both figurative and literal ways, by lives marred by mistreatment. “Short Term 12” develops into an emotionally compelling film that dodges the over sensationalized aspects of similar dramas for a focused and genuine perspective.

Grace (Brie Larson) is a complicated young woman who is a staff supervisor for an adolescent foster care group home. She works at the facility with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), though the kids and staff are unaware of this. Their relationship is idyllic, if somewhat emotionally restrained, because of Grace’s scarred past that included parental abuse. Grace becomes attached to a newly admitted teen named Kayden (Kaitlyn Dever) who bears some of the same wounds as her, both physically and emotionally.

Cretton establishes an early perspective of simple observation, as the group is introduced and slowly allowed to open up through their actions and amusing stories. The photography is intimate, if a little over manipulated with a hand-held technique, yet the perspective allows for an effective invitation into the lives of the kids. The group home location is particularly convincing with walls that look recently patched over and shadows of confining bars that shine through the windows. These young people, most of whom feel abandoned, are waiting for the impending birthday that signifies their release from the protective care of the facility. This area of casting is where “Short Term 12” shines; giving a realistic identity to these children that is at times passive but also occasionally violent. In one scene Marcus (Keith Stanfield), the oldest of the group, composes an aggressively charged rap verse that is especially moving when detailing the pain of his childhood and the fear of his freedom.

The focus soon narrows onto Grace who is especially guarded and slow to reveal anything about her life, even to her to concerned boyfriend. The delicate handling of her personality in the narrative is assisted by the exceptional performance from Brie Larson, who displays a mix of imposed composure and mounting frustration. Grace is protective, mostly for the kids that live in Short Term 12 but also for her own feelings and concerns about the past she ultimately must face. It’s an interesting character that Cretton crafts with deliberate and keen insights from his experience in the professional field. While Grace’s motivations become somewhat familiar and her actions over embellished to the extent of falling into melodramatic trappings, Cretton’s established narrative elements sustain the focus enough to keep the film from wavering to far off course.

“Short Term 12” is a film that looks at the lives of children harmed by mistreatment with unflinching attention. It has the unique quality of being uplifting even when it’s upsetting. Though some elements become forced and familiar, Cretton’s well-crafted script and interesting characters create a delicate film that is impressively genuine.

Monte’s Rating
4.25 out of 5.00

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