“A touching piece of cinema that is as enjoyable and gratifying to watch, as it is poignant and upsetting…”
Within a mere matter of moments into this Destin Cretton drama Short Term 12, this turns from being a light-hearted, jovial piece to suddenly becoming intense and somewhat disquieting. This sets the precedence for the rest of this poignant feature, as this technique is used throughout as the tonal emphasis shifts freely and consistently, shadowing that of our protagonists, who lead seemingly normal lives, then in an instance they have to be alert and professional, dealing with intimidating and aggressive kids.
Set in a foster care facility for juveniles under the age of 18, we delve into this world through Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty something staff member, who attempts to balance her day job, with her long-term partner Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who also happens to be her colleague. As the pair spend their day dealing with challenging tasks and kids trying to escape or potentially commit suicide, with newcomer Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) causing them some real anguish – they inevitably take much of this drama with them back home, and when Grace discovers she is pregnant, it works as a catalyst for a series of pent up emotions to come to the forefront.
Rarely do films come about where you care so much for every character, as there is nobody to dislike or find unsympathetic in this piece. In many instances the lack of an antagonist would be a concern, but in this case, it allows for Cretton to maintain this heartwarming feel that is prevalent throughout. The relationships that Grace and Mason have with these kids are all so incredibly earnest and you believe in every last one of them, no doubt thanks to the incredibly naturalistic dialogue, while there isn’t a single faulty performance amongst this gifted cast. It’s just so moving to see how the staff and the kids help and inspire each other.
Cretton must also be commended for avoiding any feeling of melodrama despite the persistent big scaled, emotional sequences that ensue, as this subtle piece remains realistic from start to finish, and we never once question what we’re seeing. It’s just a fascinating tale, and one that has been dealt with so delicately, as our protagonist gives so much of her time to those seemingly less privileged than she, and yet she’s got a variety of her own personal issues to contend with. Grace is an endearing character, and is one played with such sincerity and maturity by Larson, who illuminates every single scene she is in. Meanwhile, credit must go the way of Keith Stanfield, who is simply breathtaking as the troubled youth Marcus, turning in a quite incredible performance. From the very first moment you first lay eyes on him, you instantly get a sense for the sorrow he has hidden away behind his eyes.
There are some scenes that in many other instances, could seem somewhat mawkish and cheesy, but thanks to the strong array of performances, and the fact the audience are already so invested in these characters, we allow Cretton to take us where he pleases, and we simply abide by it. Short Term 12 is just a touching piece of cinema that is as enjoyable and gratifying to watch, as it is poignant and upsetting, effectively echoing the journey those who work in such surroundings are taken on. This is first class filmmaking.
About the Author
Stefan Pape is a Film Critic for TFM. Follow @stefanpape29