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New Review: Short Term 12 (2013)

Updated on January 28, 2014

Director: Destin Daniel Crettin
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Rami Malek, Stephanie Beatriz, Alex Calloway, Frantz Turner

Short Term 12
is one of the best movies I've ever seen about troubled teens and the people who try to help them. The movie takes place at the title foster care facility, and while there certainly is a lot of drama that happens there, there isn't a moment of it that feels mawkish or manipulative. Writer and director Destin Daniel Crettin's handling of the material is so honest and sincere, and the performances are so genuine, that it feels less like a work of fiction and more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

The movie stars Brie Larson as Grace, a young 20-something staff member at the Short Term 12 facility. Perhaps more than any other worker there, she knows good and well what a lot of the kids are going through. Her parents divorced when she was young, and after her mother died, she was sent to live with her father, who was both physically and sexually abusive toward her. She resorted to self-mutilation, and even today, you can still see the scars on her ankles and hands.

While Grace is pretty darned skilled at pointing out the problems with the kids under her care and helping them through it, when it comes to battling her own demons, she shuts down. She has trust issues with her supportive boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), who also works at the facility, and seems unable to open up to him about her problems. She's pregnant with Mason's kid, but contemplates getting an abortion because not only does she doubt her skills as a parent, but she's worried about bringing a child into a world full of cruelty and uncertainty.

Heartwarming doesn't even begin to describe it!
Heartwarming doesn't even begin to describe it!

Brie Larson's performance is nothing if not extraordinary. She captures Grace's strength and vulnerability very well, and creates a character who deserves both our sympathy and understanding. Grace understands good and well that she needs help, but has difficulty asking for it. Instead, she uses her pain to connect with and help the kids under her care. She remains professional and calm doing her job, until a young girl named Jayden (played by wonderful young actress Kaitlyn Dever), whose present situation opens up wounds from Grace's past, comes to the facility.

As much time as the movie spends on Grace, her problems, and her relationship with Mason, the movie gives more than enough time for the kids at the facility to breathe and grow. Each kid is given their own quirks and ticks, but none of them come across as mere objects of sympathy. These are real and fully developed young teens, not "underprivileged" (as one character makes the mistake of calling them at one point), but damaged people who simply crave the love and attention that has been denied them for so long.

The two best scenes in the film actually come when two of the kids express themselves to their counselors in the only way they know how. The first comes when a young man named Marcus (Keith Stanfield, absolutely phenomenal), the oldest kid at Short Term 12, performs a rap song for Mason, who provides the beat for his song on a bongo drum. It's a very profane and angry song, but it also comes from the very heart of his character. When Mason says "I don't know what to say, man" once the song is done, we know exactly how he feels, because we're rendered speechless by it as well.

The second scene, which is perhaps the best and most heartbreaking scene in the film, comes when Jayden reads to Grace a children's story she's been working on, about an octopus who befriends a shark. This scene is a wrenching study of emotional anguish and compassion. Just listen to Dever's voice as it grows more and more pained as she continues telling the story. Just watch Larson's face once she realizes what the story is really about. Both actresses turn in such powerful performances that it's almost criminal that they were ignored at the Oscars.

It's all just so wonderful!!!  :D
It's all just so wonderful!!! :D

I read somewhere that Short Term 12 is partly based on Crettin's experiences working at a foster care facility for troubled teens, all of which he wrote down in journals. That would explain why the scenes at the facility feel as authentic as they do. We learn about some of the rules the staff members have to abide by, such as if a teen should get beyond the border of the facility, the counselor can follow the teen and try to talk to them, but they can't touch them. We get scenes where the counselors interact during their cigarette breaks, including the pretty hilarious opening scene of the film, where Mason relays a story to rookie counselor Nate (Rami Malek) about how he followed one of the teens who managed to escape and wound up crapping in his pants. The movie also manages to sprinkle in some tender and amusing interludes, such as the scene where Grace and Mason draw portraits of each other.

Short Term 12 doesn't bring closure to every plot thread, like the one involving Grace's father getting released from prison, and that's as it should be. Crettin is honest enough to know that any sort of neat resolution would be just wrong for the material. Short Term 12 continues developing its character even after the final fade out, ensuring that it's a movie that won't be easy to forget. The movie began as a short film written and directed by Crettin, and now he's expanded it into a flawless film that asks us to feel empathy and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. What a wonderful movie.

Rated R for language, some sexual content, and mature subject matter

Final Grade: **** (out of ****)

What were your thoughts on this movie? :)

Cast your vote for Short Term 12 (2013)


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    • priley84 profile image

      priley84 3 years ago from Warner Robins, Ga


      Thanks, and thanks for reading, Jen!

    • profile image

      Jen 3 years ago

      Great breakdown. Not too much is given away but just enough to draw you to wanting to see the movie. Your review reminds me of the effect this movie had on me and makes me want to watch it again.

    • priley84 profile image

      priley84 4 years ago from Warner Robins, Ga

      Thanks for reading. :)

    • Noel Tanti profile image

      Noel Tanti 4 years ago from Malta

      great review... put it down on my to-watch list :)