Loading...

Short Term 12 May Seem Depressing, But It's Actually One of the Year's Best Films 

Thursday, Aug 22 2013
Comments
9065098.t.jpg

Like The Wire or Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's oeuvre, Short Term 12 is the kind of film that sounds agonizingly depressing on paper but mesmerizes on-screen. It's a delicate yet passionate creation, modest in scope but almost overwhelming in its emotional intricacy, ambition and resonance. Easily one of the best films so far this year, it's a nearly perfect blend of pimple-faced naturalism, righteous moral fury, nuanced social insight, and unsentimental but devastating drama.

A glammed-down Brie Larson is luminous as Grace, a supervisor at a short-term foster-care facility, where she and three other idealistic but exhausted 20-somethings care for a handful of minors the county has yet to place. Sweetly sturdy Grace, gentle dreamboat Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), matter-of-fact Jessica (Stephanie Beatriz) and newbie Nate (Rami Malek) have fascinatingly fluid roles at Short Term 12, smoothly switching from older sibling or camp counselor to orderly or bloodstain cleaner. Grace and her crew exercise firm control over their charges, some of whom cope better than others. But they're hamstrung by the relative powerlessness of their low-status positions, forced to stand by while the kids' lives are administered by well-meaning therapists and social workers whose knowledge is more academic than actual.

Director Destin Cretton elicits strong, unaffected performances from his child actors. The film focuses on two, in particular: Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a 17-year-old terrified of aging out of foster care when his birthday arrives in a week, and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a creative younger teen whose raccoon eyes and poses of studied rebellion cover up some serious bruising and scars. "I don't really like wasting time on short-term relationships," she announces on her first day, asking for help by pretending not to. Marcus and Jayden immediately demand sympathy not because they're children but because they're such believable ones.

Related Stories

Grace initially is drawn to Jayden for the girl's gift with a sketch pad and pencil, but as the film unclenches its fist, loosening its secrets, it's clear the two have much more in common than doodling. Their similarities thrust Grace into psychological chaos and heroic action, and the traumas the characters have been so afraid to reveal aren't reductive, as in so many other films where a childhood ordeal is flattened into an explanation for a grown-up's heroic motivations or character flaws. Rather, the utterance — or even the acknowledgement — of these secrets provides an Aristotelian catharsis: They're as curative for the audience as for the characters.

Jayden's presence also forces Grace to deal with the long-term effects of her own abusive past — strongly hinted at early in the film, when she gives a hard, reflexive slap across the face to the colleague/secret boyfriend who climbs atop her one night for a bout of cuddly lovemaking. A surprise pregnancy amplifies Grace's hopes and fears. As the shadows of the latter loom larger — and her abuser suddenly threatens nearer — her relationship and her sense of self unravel, just when she's needed most by Jayden.

Short Term 12's greatest achievement is its ability to paint a double portrait of abuse — a larger exploration of the enduring effects of violent trauma, as well as an intimate depiction of a damaged but hopeful and persevering individual. It's a bold and sensitive vision — and one that shouldn't be missed.

SHORT TERM 12 | Written and directed by Destin Cretton | Cinedigm | Landmark

Related Content

Short Term 12
Rated R · 96 minutes · 2013
Official Site: shortterm12.com
Director: Destin Cretton
Writer: Destin Cretton
Producer: Maren Olson, Asher Goldstein, Joshua Atrachan and Ron Najor
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Stephanie Beatriz, Kaitlyn Dever, Alex Calloway, Kevin Hernandez, Lydia Du Veaux and Keith Stanfield

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Short Term 12

Now Showing

  1. Thu 31
  2. Fri 1
  3. Sat 2
  4. Sun 3
  5. Mon 4
  6. Tue 5
  7. Wed 6

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.
  • Are Westerns For The Weak? Not According to "Sensei" Martin Kove
    Decades ago, the western film was king, with nearly 100 produced every year at their peak in the 1940s, and their popularity extending years beyond. But today, other than rare successes like Django Unchained or True Grit, the genre is not in great shape. Films such as Cowboys and Aliens and The Lone Ranger failed to spark new interests in the western. It's a tough nut to crack, but veteran movie bad guy Martin Kove -- most well known for his role as Sensei John Kreese in The Karate Kid -- is passionate about the classic American film genre and is trying to revive it. We spent an afternoon at his home talking about westerns and how to make the genre interesting again. All photos by Jared Cowan.

Now Trending