Review – Short Term 12

It’s to the immense credit of all concerned that this tale following the lives of the caring staff and troubled teens of a foster care facility manages to bypass the stereotypes and melodrama to deliver a truly affecting piece of cinema.

Short Term 12 is a genuine pleasure and should be regarded as a calling card for both its director and exciting young ensemble

Short Term 12 is a genuine pleasure and should be regarded as a calling card for both its director and exciting young ensemble

A hit at last year’s SXSW, the emotional honesty and intelligence of Short Term 12 is as refreshing as it is rare; as is its ability to break free of the style-over-substance shackles that so often tie down indie movies.

A big reason for this is the cast, led by Brie Larson in a breakout performance as Grace, a supervisor at the titular halfway house whose concern for its neglected kids is so strong that it can prove overpowering, especially when it comes to the facility’s newest addition Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever).

Garce (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr) in Short Term 12

Garce (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr) in Short Term 12

Grace sees a lot of herself in Jayden, an angry and confused teenager struggling to deal with circumstances forced upon her. The film draws parallels between the two (they look so alike they could be sisters) and just as Grace finds that she’s getting through to the trouble youth, the demons of her past creep to the surface and threaten her relationship with boyfriend and co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr).

Short Term 12 is ultimately about our inherent desire and fear of bonding and trusting each other. Marcus (Keith Stanfield, giving an excellent performance) is about to turn 18 and, as a result, must leave the facility. The fear of facing the outside world and giving up the connections he has made in order to form new ones is written on his face and explicit in his self-destructive actions. When he performs a rap he’s created to Mason, the pain Marcus feels is etched into each word, but so is the strength that opening up gives him.

Grace (Brie Larson) tries to connect with Marcus (Keith Stanfield) in Short Term 12

Grace (Brie Larson) tries to connect with Marcus (Keith Stanfield) in Short Term 12

These are kids who have been deprived of care and attention and struggle to adapt when it is offered. Sometimes small tokens, such as a cupcake, are enough. More often than not, these kids just need someone they can relate to.

In much the same way as Jaws‘  Brody, Hooper and Quint, a shared moment comparing scars (in this case caused by self-harm) generates a connection between Grace and Jayden and offers a moment of realisation that neither need be alone to face the pain they hold within.

Mason (John Gallagher Jr) and Nate (Rami Malek) try to calm down tearaway teen Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) in Short Term 12

Mason (John Gallagher Jr) and Nate (Rami Malek) try to calm down tear away teen Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) in Short Term 12

The bond between Grace and Mason is affectionately handled and given an honest edge by the two performers. Mason clearly loves Grace, but is frustrated she won’t fully open up to him, while a shock development in Grace’s life threatens to tip their relationship over the edge.

Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton never ventures into Dangerous Minds cod-inspirationalism or been-there-seen-it grittiness (handheld camerawork aside); rather he earns the affection we feel for each fully rounded major and minor character and lets the story play out.

Short Term 12 is a genuine pleasure and should be regarded as a calling card for both its director and exciting young ensemble.

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30 comments

  1. mettelray · April 20, 2014

    This was such a great movie.. it had heart, great performances, the plot was strong and well, Larson is amazing!

  2. Joseph@thecinemamonster · April 20, 2014

    I really need to get on top of things and watch this bad boy!

  3. CMrok93 · April 20, 2014

    Such a lovely little gem that I wish would more and more peeps would actually get out and see. Good review.

    • Three Rows Back · April 20, 2014

      Thanks Dan. I hope it gets the audience it deserves; very pleased I’ve finally caught it.

  4. Brittani · April 21, 2014

    Great review! I loved this one so much. I hope more people get the chance to see it now that it’s on Netflix Instant.

  5. Tom · April 21, 2014

    Ah, good for you Mark for getting to see this! I adored it. Such class performances from everyone and while I’m glad you mentioned it here, it’s so apparent how much this film was on a mission to buck genre/tropes. Hardly anything about it could be described using the word ‘cliche,’ which is a REAL accomplishment, I feel.

    Great write-up my friend

    • Three Rows Back · April 24, 2014

      Yeah, I remember your eight slice review. That’s what drew me to this in the first place so the credit is all yours!

  6. Popcorn Nights · April 22, 2014

    I’d seen this placed high in a couple of people’s end-of-year lists a couple of months ago, and your review whets my appetite even more. Not sure when I’ll get round to it but definitely keen.

    • Three Rows Back · April 24, 2014

      It’s taken me a while too, but I’m glad I finally did. Cheers for the kind words.

  7. ruth · April 22, 2014

    Been hearing all kinds of great things about this one! I’m very curious to see this and to see Brie Larson’s performance.

    • Three Rows Back · April 24, 2014

      Larson really gives a knockout performance. I guess you’ll want to take a break from moviewatching after the festival!

  8. Mark Walker · April 24, 2014

    Nice work Mark. I’ve been meaning to get round to this one. Sounds very interesting.

    • Three Rows Back · April 24, 2014

      Yeah, it is Mark. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this a lot mate.

  9. Zoë · April 24, 2014

    I keep hearing great things… I must just find it and watch it! Fantastic write up!

    • Three Rows Back · April 24, 2014

      Cheers Zoe! I order you to watch it!

      • Zoë · April 25, 2014

        Alright, alright. I am on this!

  10. Dan Heaton · April 30, 2014

    I totally agree! There are so many ways this could have gone off the rails, but it never did. A big help were the strong performances across the board.

    • Three Rows Back · April 30, 2014

      Glad you’re on the same page my friend. Yeah, the performances were roundly excellent.

  11. colinashby · May 9, 2014

    The great thing about Brie Larson’s performance in this film is how she can convey so much with so little. She doesn’t have to have a big cry fest, throw stuff around,etc to be dramatic. A lot of her best moments in the film are the interaction scenes where she shows so much personality in her facial expressions.

    $1 million at the box office? It’s too bad this film didn’t get more attention that it deserved. Larson deserved an oscar nomination.

    • Three Rows Back · May 9, 2014

      It’s a great performance isn’t it? Naturalistic as hell. It may not have made much money, but I’m pretty sure it’s done what it needs to do in terms of getting Larson et al noticed.

  12. Lights Camera Reaction · May 13, 2014

    Glad you liked it! Short Term 12 was one of my favourite films of last year, I was a big big fan of it. Brie Larson is the shining core of the movie, delivering a very textured portrayal of a young woman hiding a lot of deep pain from others.
    Nice review!

    • Three Rows Back · May 13, 2014

      It’s a great performance isn’t it? A real calling card for her. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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    • Three Rows Back · May 21, 2014

      Thank you! Wasn’t aware I was on Yahoo News! I have no idea how I got on that or how I would advise you to get in it, sorry.

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