Movie Review: Short Term 12

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A young woman struggles to come to terms with her past while working in a foster care facility.

starsfive

Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013

The at-risk foster system kids of Short Term 12 often give the staff a run for their money. Every day they deal with runaways, fights, hidden drugs, and the possibility of self-harm. When Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives at the program, she sends capable carer Grace (Brie Larson) into a tailspin. Grace is pregnant with her co-worker Mason’s (John Gallagher Jr.) baby, and Jayden reminds her of herself when she was younger. Also new to the facility is Nate (Remi Malek), who is shocked by some of the things he has to deal with, and is trying to cope as best he can. Meanwhile, the staff have to manage the behaviour of long-term resident Marcus (Keith Stanfield), who is acting out in more and more violent ways. Eventually everything comes to a head for Grace, who finds she has to overcome her past in order to move on with her life.

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This is the epitome of indie filmmaking. It’s a great, humble story, full of real human drama and hope, and it’s note perfect. It draws you in slowly, introducing you to all the characters and plot strands, before bringing them all together in the end. The handheld, muted cinematography works perfectly for this story, making you feel like you’re in there with these people who are living their lives the best way they know how. The performances are naturalistic, but for once that’s not a euphemism for untrained and slightly awkward. Brie Larson is a revelation in the lead, playing through Grace’s inability to talk about her feelings by communicating with every glance and gesture. John Gallagher Jr. is adorable as her quirky, supportive boyfriend with a sunny outlook despite his own difficult past. There are great performances from Kaitlyn Dever and Keith Stanfield as the troubled teens, with Stanfield providing a spine-tingling moment when performing a rap, and Dever meshing vulnerability and bitterness in an ultimately relateable role. There’s also solid support from Remi Malek and Brooklyn Nine Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz (she smiles!) as co-workers. The cast works well together, displaying a well-worn chemistry that makes the contained world of the movie feel real (the majority of the action takes place within the walls of Short Term 12).

This film is a really heartfelt, poignant affair, in a way that doesn’t feel preachy or forced. The filmmakers strike a delicate balance of realism and storytelling, keeping everything very accurate (the plans and procedures for kids at crisis point are authentic) while building towards a satisfying conclusion. It particularly struck a chord with me as someone who has worked with my fair share of pointy-end kids myself, but I think that anyone can connect with some element of the story. It’s not all dark and dour, either, with plenty of humour and fun in amongst the harsher elements. These are people who are really trying to figure themselves out and make a difference, who are caring and human with skills and weaknesses and foibles. The film builds towards a hopeful conclusion, wrapping up this story arcĀ and leaving the characters to continue on with their lives.

Short Term 12 on IMDb

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