It says a lot when you are still happy you went to see a movie (and took the risk of parking on a D.C. side street) even after receiving an expensive parking ticket. Short Term 12, written and directed by newcomer Destin Cretton, is so phenomenal, I would have gotten twenty parking tickets in order to see it. Well, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.
Short Term 12 is not only a fantastic movie (it won both the Audience and Grand Jury Awards at the SXSW Film Festival this year), it is one of the best films of the entire year. It would be hard to find a movie with as much heart and emotional depth as this one. There are no plot points I would change or any roles I would recast, which is a huge statement from someone who ridiculously believes she (at times) has a better vision for a film than its director. Bottom line: the almost 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which is a feat in and of itself) speaks volumes for the quality of Short Term 12.
An expansion of Cretton’s short film of the same name, Short Term 12 is centered around Grace (Brie Larson), a remarkable young woman who manages a foster care facility called Short Term 12 with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). While their relationship is supposed to be a secret, the couple doesn’t do a great job hiding their affection for each other from the kids.
Grace is a mother, mentor, and friend to this group of “under-privileged” (though you better not call them that to their face) children that range in age from about ten to eighteen years old. While most of the kids have had incredibly difficult lives full of heartache and abuse, they finally feel like part of a family while at Short Term 12. The familial relationship is so strong, it seems many would rather stay at the facility than turn eighteen and have to leave.
However, with all of Grace’s strength on the outside, she has her inner demons. This struggle comes to a head after she discovers unwelcome news that may not only affect her relationship with Mason, but affect all of the personal progress she has made over the past few years. The arrival of a new foster kid named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), who faces many of the same hardships as Grace did as a child, only makes the situation more difficult to handle. In order to be the best for herself, her boyfriend, and the kids, Grace must face the pain she has hidden for so long and try to make peace with it.
I love films that are so well-written, they have the ability to effortlessly jump back and forth between humor and drama. However, this is extremely risky and hard to achieve. The jokes have to be perfectly timed (and actually funny) in order to enhance the mood of a scene. One little mistake can take the audience out of the scene and ruin the overall feel of the movie. Thankfully, Cretton walks this very thin line brilliantly. Just when you think the drama may get too upsetting to handle, he throws in a witty line from Larson, a sassy remark from Dever, or a screaming kid trying to “make a run for it” to escape the facility. These moments help lighten the mood of a film with a pretty dark subject matter.
Along with the brilliant screenplay, what really stood out to me in the movie was the top-notch acting. Because Short Term 12 is so centered on the characters, and their evolution throughout the storyline, it is important that the acting be exceptional, and it is; there are no weak links. I have been a fan of Larson since I first saw her in United States of Tara, however, she has never been better than her role as Grace. Her ability to convincingly mix humor and drama is exactly what the film needs.
Larson also does a fantastic job developing her character. As new conflicts arise, we see Grace encounter more of her past wounds and try to overcome the pain they have caused (and still cause) in her life. Grace has one of the best arcs of any movie character this entire year, and that is as much a tribute to the fantastic script as Larson’s incredible acting. John Gallagher Jr. and Kaitlyn Dever also gave spectacular performances, the latter being an ideal catalyst to highlight Grace’s painful past and the former being a perfect counter-balance to keep Grace grounded.
Short Term 12 is a movie you should see the second it becomes available in your area. While I know it will probably not get a wide-release, put a note on your fridge to check this film out when it comes to VOD and Redbox. My only advise is that on your quest to acquire the DVD, make sure you park exactly 20 feet or more from the closest fire hydrant.
My Review: A+