Short Term 12 Reviews
As a bunch of camp workers stand around sharing a rather crude story, we get a sense of a very relaxed, mumblecore tone being established. They are a bunch of late twentysomethings, directionless, moping about and telling stories. It is the kind of indie film pastiche seen many time. Yet suddenly, a disturbed child rushes from an adjacent door and hurtles towards an exit. Suddenly, there is panic and shouting, the mood becomes tense. This is the essence of Short Term 12 . From the relaxed tone of mumblecore comes real shock and, occasionally, real darkness.
Yes, the camp is a camp for troubled youths. Where escape attempts are but minor worries when put in context of suicide attempts. Indeed, any plot arch that attempts to reach outside the realm of the camp almost seems futile. For instance, I'm struggling to even remember the presence of a romance between Grace (Brie Larsen) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr) after the fact, as the discussion will no doubt center so strongly on the scene involving the teens. Petty squabbles become major threats, and any attempt to get to close to troubled youths may be dangerous.
The film's universe carries the sort of consequences inherent to a war film. A rap performance in particular may leave you breathless; a scene in which the teens decorate a fellow housemates walls carries devastating weight. Yet, the film has an optimistic undercurrent, one that manifests in the viewer a possible fulfillment amidst emotional exhaustion.
Grace (Larson) works as a supervisor at a short-term group home for emotionally broken teenagers. The kids are supposed to stay there for less than a year - until the county figures out what to do with them - but, as we learn, some, like Marcus (Keith Stanfield), are there for more than three years. Grace and her three fellow counsellors have a huge job on their hands and it wouldn't be surprising if they cracked under pressure but they all seem to be able to handle each day's challenges with a heady mix of professionalism, empathy, humour, gravity and a bit of exhaustion. Grace, herself, is soft-spoken but she's not afraid to enforce the facility's rules - no closed doors, no profanity spoken, and no unauthorised leaving. Thankfully, most of the kids understand the rules and appreciate her tough love approach but there are a couple of kids who are still too deeply troubled to be able to stay on track all the time.
Grace's guarded world slowly starts to unravel when three big events hit her at the same time - she learns that she's pregnant; she receives word that her father will be released from prison; and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a new charge, arrives at the home bearing emotional and physical scars that Grace seems to understand a little too well. Though she is well able to overcome the trust issues that the kids have, she can't seem to be able to tear down her own wall, particularly when it comes to her boyfriend and co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.; TV's THE NEWSROOM).
SHORT TERM 12 was written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who once worked in a California facility similar to this one. His experiences there formed the basis of a short film of the same name that he wrote in university as his thesis project. It was released in 2008 to great praise. The long version of the film has been a festival darling since it premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2013. There, it won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards, and 32 more awards at other festivals from Abu Dhabi to Mexico.
There are a couple of scenes in the film (Marcus' rap song and Jayden's children's story) that will absolutely break your heart but this film is far from being mawkish. All the performances are delivered with such sincerity you may just think that these actors understand abuse on a firsthand level. Larson's quiet and sensitive performance, though, really stands out in this work that is both solidly written and directed. As much as Grace would like to like to sublimate her own past, the events that surround her won't let her. Through her, the kids and even Mason, we see that while you can cover up the scars, they remain with you long after the abuse ends.