Flying firmly under the indie radar Short Term 12 is one of those films you’ll see, fall in love with and then immediately tell your friends about. It’s a film that deals with harsh and difficult subject matters and yet still manages to pick you up, cuddle you and then leave you smiling with a genuine warmth the likes of which most films can only aspire to.
Short Term 12 is a shelter for at risk teenagers. Run by Grace (Brie Larson) and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) the couple are particularly focused on long term resident Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who is about to turn 18 and therefore depart their care. But when trouble teen Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives at the home it stirs memories of Grace’s similarly dark past.
Short Term 12 is a rare thing in film, a story that manages to address difficult issues but retain a sense of honest and believable humour. The film opens with a troubled resident of the home making a break for freedom only for Grace and Mason to catch him just shy of the boundaries upon which they’re allowed to detain him. As the young boy struggles to control himself Mason and Grace look to the gate he was so close to escaping through and inform him that this is a personal record for him. It is moments like these, a harsh and brutal event followed by an upbeat chirp, which makes Short Term 12 so breathlessly endearing.
Writer director Destin Cretton uses this tone to shape his visuals. The colour pallet is often soft, delicate and almost cold but throughout there are glimmers of light. Every scene has an ideal of both dread at what may occur combined with hope as the sun gently caresses the shot reminding us that there is huge amount of warmth on display.
Grace also encompasses this concept. A girl taking on responsibilities far beyond her age she is both friend and authority figure to these children; able to empathise with them and often more astute as to their issues than the highly paid therapists who seem to miss many of the issues at hand. She’s a character you care for deeply thanks to a brilliant turn from Brie Larson. Best known for her role in The United States Of Tara and 21 Jump Street, Larson proves here that she is one of films must watch talents. As Grace she brings strength combined with a heartbreaking vulnerability, at one moment a rock upon which these kids can stand, the next a lonely black cloud desperate to be left alone.
She is well supported by a cast that never fails to delight. Gallagher Jr., best known for his role in The Newsroom, again demonstrates a natural ability to charm you into submission. Stanfield brings a brilliant and painfully strong silent type to his performance as Marcus making it all the harder to watch his fear gradually grow at the reality of having to face the outside world. Dever is solid as Jayden although her delivery is often a little dry forcing you to question everything she says as a potential lie.
One of the most real and uplifting films you’re likely to see, Short Term 12 is stunning to behold and refuses to conform to the indie mantra that ‘gritty is better’.