Winner of numerous awards including the Grand Jury Award at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, the characters and the story of Short Term 12 will stay with you long after you have left the theatre.
Short Term 12 centres around Grace (Brie Larson, nominated for Best Actress, Independent Spirit Awards 2013), a worker at a short term foster care facility for teenagers. She makes her charges feel secure and safe, far from the home life many of them left behind. Grace is well liked by the kids and the staff, including her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.). She loves her job, and she loves her life, but Grace was once a troubled teen herself, and the arrival of a new charge at the facility, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) , will force Grace to confront a past she thought she had overcome.
Brie Larson as Grace and Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden in Short Term 12
It's a thoughtful film, and one that is surprisingly heart-warming and uplifting for such difficult subject matter. From the opening sequence, the film draws you in, allowing you to catch more than a glimpse of the environment they work in. There's no turning your eyes away from the screen when a young boy dressed in nothing but his undies tears across the home's garden. But it's this behaviour and energy, the child's way of dealing with his life, that Grace, Mason and their colleagues face day to day.
The supervisors are caring and supportive of each other and their charges – they're characters you want to support, if only because Larson's performance as Grace is so understated and powerful. Grace and Mason's relationship acts as an opposite comparison to what they had missed out on when they were younger, and it provides a ray of light in the storyline, like the film was trying to tell us that you can get through this all and be happy. Mason's toast to his parents portrays him as a man filled with gratitude and a love of life. It will make you love him more too.
The kids are portrayed, thanks to the script and direction of Destin Cretton, as people who need a way out of the miserable lives they grew up in, and not merely misfit teens. They're all looking for a family to belong to and be loved by, and they cling to each other somehow because they are the only functional family they have. The birthday card scene with Jayden will leave you in tears.
One of the most memorable characters in the film is Marcus, played beautifully by Keith Stanfield, who also appeared in the original short film version. He could have been played as a typically snarky, mean young man, but instead Marcus battles through his issues with his mother and comes out the other end determined to beat the cycle of abuse he grew up in. I found it hard to let go of his scene with Larson and Gallagher as they shave his head.
Brie Larson as Grace and Keith Stanfield as Marcus
It was also interesting that the film touched on how people outside of the facility see the kids. When a new supervisor introduces himself, he says, without thinking, "I want to work with underprivileged kids". Immediately, the response from one of the other kids is defensive, and you are immediately want to know more about how the kids feel, and not just how the adults around them "deal with them", as is often the case in films about teenagers.
Short Term 12 is one of the most powerful films I've seen this year, and has easily become one of my favourite films I've ever seen. It's heart, soul and subtle style will leave you emotionally engaged for a while. If you're looking for a film that is about real problems, real sprit and free of the schmaltz and cheesiness that sometimes comes through in films of this nature, then this is the one to bring you home. You'll feel renewed and hopeful afterwards.
Short Term 12 is rated M, and is released in selected cinemas nationally from December 26.
Grace with boyfriend Mason (played by John Gallagher Jr) in Short Term 12