Short Term 12 Long Term Promise

Brie Larson takes a major leap forward with charm and Grace.

Brie Larson takes a major leap forward with determination and Grace in SHORT TERM 12.

The best independent films take their cue from the best literary short stories.  They cut through the fat so often found in more commercial fare and focus on the moment, on character.  Minimalist in style.  Maximum in feeling.  Writer/director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 is one such film.

Grace (Brie Larson) is happily toiling away with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) working together as counselors at a group home for troubled youth, but when an unexpected pregnancy pops up and a deeply disturbed new ward (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives, Grace finds herself at a crossroads still trying to cope with her own dark past.

Brie Larson plays Grace with a breezy charm.  She instantly relates to the kids (for reasons we later learn go beyond the standard love of job), and she’s both care-free and deadly serious.  There’s so much stuff bubbling up underneath her surface, and Larson is shockingly adept at traversing the slippery slope of her character’s arc.  As her boyfriend, Mason, who so desperately wants to dive beneath that surface with her, John Gallagher Jr. (so insufferable on the insufferable Newsroom) comes across as a likeable hipster duffus with a huge heart.  He loves telling stories and he connects with the kids because he’s a kid himself, and again we learn later on why he is the way he is.  Cretton, as he does with all of the characters circling in Grace’s orbit, reveals backstories bit by bit, not with a self-aware sense of revelation, but with the same casual charm as Grace.  He allows us to connect with them through small moments, character revealing details, just as Grace does when working with the kids at the home in her sincere attempts to get through to them.

Short Term 12

Cretton could’ve easily played things for melodrama, but he’s a keen observer of life’s nuances and contradictions, the facades children and adults will put up when they can’t cope with the trouble they encounter every day, the stories they tell and the neuroses they develop.  The gallows humor.  The sarcasm.  The acting out.  The cutting.  There’s one kid who when not clinging to childish mementos literally can’t run fast enough away from that tortured childhood.  Another kid puts up a tougher-than-thou bravado only to reveal some of the most heart wrenching rap lyrics you’ll ever hear.  The kids struggle with finding appropriate outlets for their emotions, and their colors of rage are tempered through Cretton’s first-hand knowledge having worked in just such a home before he turned to film.   There’s no wallowing in misery, though there are miserable acts piercing these kids’ lives.  Likewise, there’s no raging against “the system” though he does touch on that slightly through Grace’s anger towards a superior playing politics, but as shown with Mason’s character, sometimes “the system” works just as well as it doesn’t.

Grace, Mason, their peers and the kids are so darn likeable, it’s impossible not to root for them.  Grace has lived through things you never really get over…but through the kids and through her love for them…she learns to cope.  Some might say she gets too attached to her wards, but she gets attached because someone has to.  Short Term 12 is about the long-term prospects of finding those human connections…building a misfit family of your own.  With Larson’s winning performance and Cretton’s sensitive direction, it’s a true indie gem that deserves to shine.  Both director and star should have a bright path ahead.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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6 comments on “Short Term 12 Long Term Promise

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    I hadn’t heard of this film until now David, but your sturdy praise has me investigating. As of late there seems to be a resurgence of independent cinema at a time when the multiplex offers close to nothing. Excellent work here!

    • Sam, I’ll chalk up you not having heard of this film to your recent jaunt to the British Isles. This one’s a keeper…I think you’ll find much to savor. See it poste haste before it disappears from the few theaters it’s showing at.

  2. Prakash J says:

    I heard all good things about it on Ebert’s site, and was convinced by the trailer that this is a movie with it’s heart, mind and soul in the right place. Your excellent review only reaffirms this.

    BTW, did you get to watch The Spectacular Now? Although it’s more commercial, the subtle performances have come for praise and make it worth a watch.

    • Sam Juliano says:

      Not sure about David, but I saw THESPECTACULAR NOW last night with my wife and kids and loved it!

      • Hmmm…Sam & Prakash – the trailers for The Spectacular Now made it look like the type of coming-of-age tale I normally don’t care too much for (I prefer my Mud’s….or heck, my Short-Term 12’s, etc…to stuff that focuses too much on mix-matched teenage romance) but based on both of your accolades, I’ll have to give it a shot when it comes to Netflix.

  3. […] fulfills the promise of great things to come when she first dazzled similarly in the more nuanced Short Term 12. Meanwhile, I don’t know if they could’ve found a more perfect child actor than […]

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