Short Term 12
Short Term 12 is a beautiful and deeply moving film about broken lives and the struggle to make it in a fallen world. It is one of the best films I have seen this year. In an age of big budgets, mind-numbing special effects, and overpaid actors, the best films are still ones that tell a human story. Short Term 12 does this better than any film in recent memory. It is realistic in ways that you sometimes wonder whether or not you are watching a work of fiction. It presents interesting characters that the audience can immediately connect with. These characters may not share any specific characteristics with us, but they are broken, and because of this we can relate. Short Term 12 invites us into the lives of troubled and hurting young adults who are faced with challenges many adults do not have to face. Although it is a work of fiction it still feels like a privilege to be invited into their lives, and to share intimate moments with people who are completely vulnerable.
Short Term 12 tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) who work at a foster care facility for troubled teenagers. These two twenty somethings, who have problems of their own, are the only source of stability and guidance in the lives of these kids who have been hurt and rejected by society. As the film develops the audience learns that Grace and Mason are good at their jobs because they can relate well to the teens they are trying to help. They know what it is like to be in a foster home, and they know what it is like to be deeply hurt by someone you love. This makes them effective mentors, but we also come to discover that Grace has not completely recovered from her own personal struggles. There is a tension present as Grace struggles to help the kids in the home, while at the same time wrestling with her own demons.
Although all the acting is good, Brie Larson is the star of this film. She turns in her second brilliant performance of the year and proves she knows how to choose good roles for herself. Earlier this year she had a supporting role in the impressive film, The Spectacular Now. Destin Cretton is the up and coming director who wrote and directed this superb piece of filmmaking. The way he captures the emotions of his actors is stunning. In one scene where Mason goes to talk to Marcus (Keith Stanfield) about some issues he has been having lately, the camera slowly moves in on Marcus and we feel the hurt and pain being expressed by this troubled teenager. After Marcus pours out his heart Mason is left speechless and so is everyone in the audience. Destin Cretton has created scene after scene like this. He knows how to bring out the best in his actors and capture it all on film.
One of the reasons Short Term 12 is so great is because it explores important issues such as vulnerability, trust, and community. Because nearly every character in the film has been hurt in some way they must learn to open themselves up to others again. They must learn to be vulnerable and trust others. This is difficult because they have plenty of reasons not to do this. They have been rejected and abused by the most intimate community they have known, their family. Now all of these individuals, both foster kids and staff, come together to form their own community. Although this community is far from perfect, in its better moments, it somehow works because everyone understands they are all broken.
Short Term 12 is not just about brokenness, hurting, and pain. It is also a movie of hope and redemption. Many of the characters within the film are down but not out. They still have plenty of fight in them. They resent the fact that anyone would refer to them as “underprivileged.” They have been beaten, abused, and mistreated, but they refuse to give up. By the end of the film it is obvious that hope and redemption are present in the lives of these individuals. It is far from full redemption, but we do witness a partial redemption that keeps them going. In the lives of broken individuals sometimes a partial redemption is the best one can hope for, sometimes a partial redemption is the only thing that keeps one going another day. Life can beat you down, but there is still a glimmer of hope that causes a person to move forward. Sometimes it comes in the form of affirming words from someone who has experienced something similar, or sometimes it is a small gesture by another human being who simply recognizes how deep the pain goes. We see this in Short Term 12 and by the end of the film not everyone is where they should be, but things are moving in the right direction. In a sense this is the best that any of us can hope for. We are never where we want to be, but hopefully we are moving in the right direction.
Short Term 12 is rated R for language and sexuality.