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. Continue reading