Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Brie Larson, Kaitlyn Dever, John Gallagher Jr., Keith Stanfield, Rami Malek, Stephanie Beatriz
Plot: Grace (Larson) ruins a centre for troubled teenagers, but as their problems hit boiling point, Grace’s own life begins to crumble apart.
Short Term 12 is actually a really important movie for me. While I haven’t looked after troubled teens, I do work at a summer school for children with special needs, so this scenario feels very familiar. Cretton, who also has a background in this profession, tells us the story of a shelter for troubled kids, and avoids every cheesy Hollywood trademark, treating the viewer to a genuine, realistic depiction of a very tricky subject.
I was partially expecting to see a bigger reaction at the OSCARs for this film. While I understand why it was missed, as it never really hit a wider audience, it does deserve some consideration for a nomination. The script is excellent, making every beat, especially when the story veers towards melodrama, feel natural and true. When most of your cast are kids, it is hard to resist the uplifting finale, where there is a happy ending for everyone. However, the script keeps everything natural and it never insults our intelligence by playing with these serious situations, in order to making a ‘better’ movie. Two moments that really made the films was how two of the most troubled kids open up. They bury themselves into creativity and we see their inner lives and back stories told through their works of art. Keith Stanfield represents his entire character with a heartfelt rap and Kaitlyn Dever’s suicidal teen gives us a chilling look at her home life through the words of a children’s book she wrote.
Brie Larson also deserved inspection for best actress. Her performance is the kind of one that I cannot point to a specific moment where she shines, but throughout the entire movie, she hit every mark. It was the quiet emotions playing behind her eyes, the silence and distance she kept with the other characters. Grace is a beautifully written character, emotionally traumatised and difficult to connect with. However, a touching performance keeps her character alive. It helps that the script doesn’t spell out her character’s origins. We get enough hints to realise how bad her past is and our imaginations do the rest. Brie Larson really is phenomenal here and I hope that she gets a few movies thrown her way this year, so wider audiences can see what this terrific actress is made of (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a good start, if you are impatient for more Larson).
As someone who has been in a similar workplace, I appreciated and connected with quite a few aspects of the story. I appreciated this idea that grace was throwing herself into the problems of her kids, so she could put her own hectic life on hold for a moment. Rami Malek portrayed the new staff member well too, as the most awkward guy in the building, stepping on egg shells, as he tries to get to grips with the place. Then there is, of course, the idea where everything just falls down all at once. Everything about this movie feels honest. The one flaw I could pick up was that there were too few ‘good’ moments. There are happy moments, but they are always connecting to something bad that happened, like a failed birthday party. As the movie is quite short, I think a scene where things just went ‘right’ would have been valued in the movie.
One of my more favourite points the movie makes is that things don’t really change. They improve slightly, but, as we see when the final scene mimics the first one, life in the centre is on a loop. The moral here is that your problems are not going to magically get better, like a movie, but if you allow yourself to open up, you will find people who will be there with you every step of the way, during your high points and your low points. And that is a truly beautiful message, that really makes Short Term 12 must see cinema.
Final Verdict: A beautiful script that doesn’t try to be anything more than a honest portrayal of a troubled teens shelter.