Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writer: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek
Release date: August 23rd, 2013
Distributors: Cinedigm, Demarest Films
Running time: 96 minutes
Best part: The powerful performances.
Worst part: The minor contrivances.
It may be a cliche, but, more often than you’d think, laughter really is the best medicine. However, eclipsing this sentiment, a concentrated mix of emotions is a sure-fire cure-all. By that token, dramedy Short Term 12 pleases anyone who submits themselves to its aura. Along with laugh-out loud moments, the movie contains more emotional twists and turns than previous dramedies of it type. Based on writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s own 2009 short film, its engaging characters, heart-warming narrative, and powerhouse performances will make even the toughest men cry throughout the blissful run-time.
So, with indie-dramedies serving specific and profound purposes, how does Short Term 12 break away from the pack? These dramedies all sport similar promotional material – commendable actors look sad, the soundtrack sets the mood, and title cards exclaim the movies’ true merits and potential. With movies like Short Term 12 bursting to life at film festivals across the world, these modest productions become small gems hiding amongst major trendsetters. Thankfully, Short Term 12 is currently blossoming outside the festival circuit. Examining powerful social and psychological issues, Cretton’s dramedy contains more emotional force than all of last year’s blockbusters put together. The previous statement may be extreme, but it’s difficult to disagree with. Sitting in the near-empty theatre, the movie’s awe-inspiring momentum enveloped me. The movie focuses on the titular foster-care facility in an unnamed sector of middle-class America. Its head supervisor Grace (Brie Larson) looks after several under-privileged children. Thankfully, she is not alone. Grace, aided by long-term boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), Jessica (Stephanie Beatriz) and newcomer Nate (Rami Malek), values her life’s work. The movie also examines a handful of these under-privileged children. Defined by varying genders, races, personalities, and problems, these characters draw memories, advice, and emotions out of their trustworthy carers.
Shy troublemaker Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is two weeks away from turning 18. Forced to leave the facility after reaching this age, Marcus’ crippling confidence issues threaten his and Mason’s personas. Flying under Hollywood’s all-encompassing radar, Short Term 12 takes controversial and potentially saccharine material and transforms it into a compellingly dramatic creation. In need, and deserving, of major critical consideration, this dramedy wholeheartedly delivers an accurate and dense depiction of America’s neglected citizens. In a better world, young audiences would ache for a drama like this. In fact, the movie becomes a mirror for this infamous demographic to peer into. Grappling touchy subject matter, Short Term 12 speaks to young people of all mental, physical, and occupational statuses. In particular, the movie touchingly deliberates on the problems facing teenage girls. The story kicks into gear after one person’s introduction. Welcoming troubled minor Jaden (Kaitlyn Dever) into the facility, Grace meets her emotional match. Unlike most institution dramas, the subjects and carers exist on similar and familiar planes of existence. We sympathise with these characters whilst relating to every twist and turn hitting their valuable lives. When one character breaks down, another relates to, and then elevates, their crippling condition. Grace, putting her arm around certain characters whilst listening to their every word, is the narrative’s emphatically likeable core. Despite coming close to Girl, Interrupted and Precious’ levels of dreariness, Short Term 12 balances out its heavier moments with sharp and humorous sequences.
“It’s impossible to worry about anything else when there’s blood coming out of you.” (Grace (Brie Larson), Short Term 12).
Highlighting important moments with witty lines and appealing character traits, Short Term 12 takes necessarily deep breaths. From the opening scene – involving Mason delivering a sweet yet peculiar anecdote about his most embarrassing incident at the facility – this story delivers organic links between lost lives, tangible existences, and wounded souls. Speeding toward the potently affable finish line, the narrative delivers emotional and psychological gut-punches and heartfelt surprises. Short Term 12, relying on morally ambiguous and straight-laced characters, breaks boundaries despite its small-scale setting’s bleak confines. Refreshingly, no one comes off like an antagonistic hindrance. Even the facility’s head supervisor Jack (Franz Turner), whilst arguing with Grace about Jaden’s stability, adequately outlines her situation’s more alarming details. Realistically, protocol and evidence stand above impulsive decisions and commendable intentions. Despite falling into visceral revenge-thriller territory in the final third, the empathetic and conscionable characters guide this poignant tale. Cretton’s screenplay, despite lacing each role with distracting contrivances, never trips up this talented ensemble. Larson, improving upon her terrific 2013 in cinema and TV, tackles her tumultuous role head-on. With Grace fending for herself throughout a tough emotional spiral, Larson’s performance works wonders for the movie’s ambitious aura. Playing the ultimate nice guy, Gallagher Jr. stretches his acting muscles beyond Aaron Sorkin’s perplexing dialogue (The Newsroom). As the voice of reason, his character provides levity for several heartbreaking scenes.
Thanks to lasting appeal, powerful dramatic beats, and fresh-faced performers, Short Term 12 becomes a strong breath of fresh air compared to the past few months’ big-budget flops. Here, we see the evolution of a diminutive genre. This movie doesn’t simply burst into life; it delivers original ideas and emotionally gripping moments unlike any previous micro-budget drama. This optimistic character study, much like its teenage subjects, deserves some much-needed credit and attention.