“Short Term 12” (2013)
Grace (Brie Larson) works as a supervisor of a foster-care facility for at risk teenagers called Short Term 12. Her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) also works with her at the home, their relationship while discreet, is known by the children in the facility and becomes a great source of ridicule.
We first meet Grace and Mason on Nate’s (Rami Malek) first day working at the foster home. As the staff assembles outside the facility, Mason tells a humorous story of having to follow a foster kid on a bus (once the kids leave the grounds, they can’t be forcefully returned) while having to go to the bathroom for the whole ride. As Mason gets near the end of the story, one of the foster kids makes a break it, screaming at the top of his lungs as Grace says “We’ve got a runner!” This is the start to a phenomenal film about the people who work with kids who have experienced trauma in their lives.
Grace is a flawed character that can get just about any kid to talk. She always knows when to press and when to just sit there with them and let them decide for themselves when to open up. Unfortunately, Grace isn’t able to do this with herself, as she would rather ride her bike than talk about what is bothering her with Mason. Mason tries to be understanding, even joking about being jealous of her bike. But it is very evident from the start of the film that Grace’s inability to share her feelings and pain is going to cause problems later on in the film.
Grace’s world is changed when Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a teenage girl with an attitude problem, enters the facility and Grace sees herself in the troubled young woman. Grace senses that there is much more to Jayden’s story than just that her mother has died and that her dad doesn’t always show up to see her. Grace is warned by her supervisor “It’s not your job to interpret tears” but Grace can’t leave things alone and tries to reach Jayden to get her to open up.
Brie Larson is the reason to see this film as she gives one of the best performances of the year, making Grace such an interesting character to watch and root for. We hope against hope that Grace will take the necessary steps to open up about her past to Mason. Larson makes us care about Grace, and we see the passion that her character has for the kids in every scene. She also makes us like Grace, using a great sense of comic timing; making her interactions with the kids seem real and full of empathy.
Gallagher does a fine job as Mason, the kind and understanding boyfriend who is willing to put up with Grace’s aloofness in order to be with her. He makes his character the perfect partner for Grace, especially when dealing with the teenagers. He portrays Mason as a fun loving person who seems to be a kid at heart.
The cast of kids are outstanding, with Dever as the angry Jayden and Keith Stanfield as the almost eighteen year old Marcus, standing out from the rest of the gang. Dever does an excellent job of portraying a teen that is wary of sharing any of her pain, much less any of her time with the rest of the kids in the home. Stanfield brings out an enjoyable performance as the rapping teenager who doesn’t want to leave the facility, which has become the only stable thing in his life.
Writer/director Destin Cretton does a masterful job of easing us into this emotionally complex world. The film has a documentary feel to it as the camera moves quite a bit in every scene, but it never becomes obvious; as it makes us feel as part of the group in the home, experiencing what is unfolding in the foster home, right along with the rest of the kids. It would have been very easy for Cretton to write a script full of clichés and over the top scenes, but the film never gets bogged down in melodrama. Cretton treats the teens and the staff of the home as real people with real problems, problems that are dealt with humor and compassion. It’s rare to see a film about teenagers and the adults that deal with them done with a deft touch, but Cretton has brought us a film that knows that their families or friends may have let them down, but someone like Grace is willing to pick up the pieces.
My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
Short Term 12 is playing in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema