Short Term 12
Rating: This is a film about helping young people too damaged to help themselves. Government has to play a role in that process, and any Tea Party opponents should be ashamed.
Once in awhile you attend a movie where fairy dust covers the theater, leaving you both moved and overwhelmed. Such was the case with Writer/Director Destin Cretton’s powerful Short Term 12.
As you follow the travails of young staff members working in a teenage foster care facility, you are frequently left more emotional than the kids on the screen. All in their 20’s, at least one of the counselors is as psychologically damaged as the kids who they care for, while the others are left trying to make sense out of a job that frequently doesn’t make sense.
Brie Larson is phenomenal as Grace, and her performance reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence in her Oscar nominated breakthrough Winter’s Bone (2010). While I know this is always wishful thinking, she deserves her own Oscar nomination. Her simple, delicate innocence is breathtaking.
Here, she is a dedicated young woman trying to help her wards attain some balance and self-respect before they are forced to leave for the real world when they turn 18. On top of that, she discovers that she is pregnant, and is forced to reveal to her loving live-in boyfriend/co-worker, Mason, a hidden past that profoundly haunts her.
John Gallagher, Jr. is as good as Ms. Larson as he plays Mason, a young man who has a heart of gold both at home and at work. He embraces all of the children, as he knows what it is like to be a foster child.
Though the movie is seen through the eyes of Grace and Mason, the kids will burn a hole in your heart. Keith Stanfield plays Marcus, a fledgling gangsta rap lyricist who dreads turning 18 and being thrown out into the real world. Your eyes will fill with tears repeatedly during this film, particularly when Marcus describes his lost world in captivating rap lyrics.
In addition, Kaitlyn Dever is unforgettable as Jayden, a psychologically damaged 14-year old holding horrid secrets about a father seeking to visit her. She dislikes everyone, including herself, and the film centers around Grace’s desperate attempt to save Jayden from the dark side. If your heart hasn’t broken by this point, wait until you hear Jayden’s fictional short story of the tragic friendship between a shark and a small octopus.
This film reminded me of when I taught the 5th grade at an all black public school here in Indianapolis in 1969-70. Several of my male students had to use a rope to hold up their pants, and I quickly realized that my job exceeded teaching math and science.
Short Term 12 has a spirit that captures Ms. Larson’s name, Grace. Despite the noblest efforts of the “Graces” of this country, the film reminds us why government has to play a role in helping those in need due to no fault of their own.
Brilliantly acted and a composite of all that is decent and good in life, it is the best film that I have seen this year.