Short Term 12 is a centre for troubled and underprivileged kids, with stays lasting weeks, months or even years. Day manager Grace (Brie Larson), her boyfriend and co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) and newbie Nate (Rami Malek) are the staff of the facility dealing with birthdays, runaways, and violent outbursts with a friendly but professional approach. That is until Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a moody young girl spurned by her father, arrives at Short Term 12 and forces Grace to revisit her own troubled past.
As with many indie offerings, the plot isn’t important. If you go in expecting twists and turns you’ll probably be disappointed. Plot developments are clearly signposted, the slow reveal of Grace’s childhood at times borders on cliché, and if you don’t see the ending coming an hour in you’ll be one of the few. Don’t go looking for deeper meanings either, it could be argued that criticism of the protective system set up for children seeps into the narrative in the later stage, but goes no further than one short scene though. If you choose to see it as a ‘social commentary film’ you’ll leave feeling miffed at such a lightweight effort. Instead, character is at the forefront and with writer/director Destin Cretton creating likeable but complex individuals, emotional attachment easily trumps any shortcomings plot-wise.
Awkward, reclusive, vulnerable; every second is believable.
With so much emphasis on character, Brie Larson’s performance is key to Short Term 12‘s success. There’s nothing showy about it, but her low key style fits with the naturalistic plot and a truly harrowing past is slowly revealed through easy-going comedic moments that come just as natural to her. Larson proves why many have been calling for her to land more lead roles. The rest of the adult cast are good, although their roles aren’t as fleshed out as they could be. Rami Malek’s new guy on the job stands out with equal parts cringe and humorous naivety in one of the better supporting roles.
Best of all is the collective accomplishment of the younger cast members playing the facilities’ residents. Awkward, reclusive, vulnerable; every second is believable. A special mention goes to Keith Stanfield who delivers what is surely one of the most emotional rap scenes in cinema history. The first time performers gel perfectly with the more experienced members, the natural chemistry between the cast is where Short Term 12 truly shines.
A heartbreaking, low key character study.
Short Term 12 tugs on the heartstrings, although its slow progression and less than subtle foreshadowing may not be to everyone’s taste. However, as a heartbreaking, low key character study on abuse and its aftermath, Short Term 12 is undoubtedly a success.