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Short Term 12 - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published December 18th 2013
Tale of troubled teens etched from real life experience
Director: Destin Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster)
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr, Keith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek

There's a thin line between the staff and the inhabitants in Short Term 12, an authentic and unsentimental look at a group of troubled teens in a shelter home, and the carers who aren't that different in age or circumstance from those they're supervising.

short term 12 brie larson
Facility supervisor Grace (Brie Larson) and one of her charges, Marcus (Keith Stanfield)

At film's beginning we meet Nate (Rami Malek) on his first day as a supervisor at the facility. He has no practical experience at this line of work and is understandably anxious at the potential drama ahead.

He is our entry point to how the facility works, however he turns out not to be our focal point. That would be Grace (Brie Larson), a young woman clearly passionate about helping young, troubled lives. She lives with her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr), who also works at the shelter. They handle their jobs with professionalism and compassion, but at home, despite their obvious affection for each other, have trouble overcoming the impasse caused by Grace's inability to face her own demons.

When a withdrawn teenage girl reluctantly arrives at the shelter, Grace sees a lot of herself in her new charge. This results in her crossing ethical lines and forces her to confront her past and make decisions that she's been avoiding.

short term 12 kaitlyn dever
Relcutant new resident Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) slowly has a profound effect on Grace.

Writer/director Destin Cretton spent time working in such a facility and his affinity and compassion for the subject is palpable. There is an admirable verite quality to Short Term 12, the situations and details feel real yet never escalate to the point of being truly confrontational or harrowing.

Rising star Larson has gained much attention for her tremendous performance. Grace is a young woman brimming with good intentions and righteousness who is often tripped up by her inexperience and impatience, and often fails to apply her advice to her personal life. Larson conveys all this with a complex mixture of luminosity, intimacy and wavering displays of fragility and strength.

short term 12 john gallagher
John Gallagher Jr as Marcus, all-round nice guy and boyfriend to Grace.

As her patient and dependable boyfriend, Gallagher excudes warmth and is a comfortable fit for Larson. The teens that populate the shelter are all believable and have quiet moments that prove genuinely moving. Keith Stanfield is a real stand out as Marcus, an angry and sullen youth who prefers to express himself through rap.

Shot on a shoe-string budget, Short Term 12 has an immediacy and a natural charm, despite the desperation and roughness of its environs. It manages to avoid the cliches of its subject and provides a believable study of young lives in turmoil. It portrays their struggles to strike out of bad situations without ever resorting to easy answers or sensational cop outs

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Why? An authentic study of young lives in turmoil
Where: At selected cinemas
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