Short Term 12 (2013)
Starring Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, and Keith Stanfield
Directed by Destin Cretton
Grace (Brie Larson) is the lead supervisor at a temporary shelter (a "Short Term" facility) for troubled foster teens. She's quiet and private, yet darn good at what she does, garnering much respect from both the kids and coworkers she helps. However, while Grace desperately tries to get "her kids" to open up to her, she has an incredibly difficult time following that guidance herself, particularly to her long-term boyfriend and co-worker Mason (Delawarean John Gallagher Jr in an understated, yet important role). Grace isn't without her share of baggage (of both the old festering and new panicky kinds), yet she pushes everything unhealthily inward.
I'll leave the summary segment of this review at that as Short Term 12 is better to just see unfold in the natural and simplistic, though never "easy," way its story is unveiled. Along the way, we meet two foster kids in particular who resonate with both Grace and the audience -- eighteen year-old Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who is on his way out of Short Term 12 and the younger Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) who is just beginning her stint there. Both Marcus and Jayden shape Grace's life in ways she likely never would have dreamed possible, yet in a manner that never rings false or condescendingly sentimental. Writer-director Destin Cretton could've easily taken any one of his characters down the cheap path of maudlinness, but that never happens for a second.
Cretton also gets amazing performances from his cast. Brie Larson is fantastic as Grace, perfectly balancing the somewhat tricky aspects of a character that asks her to console others despite the fact that she can't do the same for herself. Her Grace has a quiet strength that makes it all the more difficult to watch as we long for her to reconcile with her past and come to peace with whatever demons may have crossed her path. We want to console her...and that's not a bad thing at all.
Adding to the across-the-board acting superlatives, both Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever give bravura performances. Stanfield's Marcus is quiet (much like Grace), but it's moreso out of defeat than anything else. He's been at Short Term 12 for a not-so-short term and his sense of worth has been deflated exponentially. Stanfield so easily could've taken this his character in an overly harsh or overly sympathetic direction, but he finds the happy medium and embodies what I think may be one of the best characters we've seen onscreen this year. Young Ms. Dever takes the the opposite approach with her Jayden who's not afraid to get rambunctious, yet eschews that bellowing personality at times in order to show that she's really just a young girl unable to cope with what the adults around her have put her through. Both get scenes that had me this close to tears simply because in the short time I'd been given to get to know these characters, empathy had taken root.
And that empathy is what makes Short Term 12 the winner that it is. This film could've easily turned into an ABC Afterschool Special if it so desired, but Dustin Cretton instead creates an authentic atmosphere with characters who never once feel "forced" into any action they're undertaking onscreen. Dialog never rings false, so much so that I sometimes found myself marveling at the sheer simplicity of what Cretton wrote -- how did the most basic of words convey so much emotion? Because of this naturalness, we in the audience immediately become intimately involved with the film...and it's really a beautiful thing.
The RyMickey Rating: A