With movies like ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ in theatres this weekend, ‘Short Term 12’ will probably not be on your radar. But, you owe it to yourself to see this film, either at TIFF Bell Lightbox where it will be playing this week or when it becomes available for home viewing on January 14th, 2014.
I enter every movie with an open mind but I must say I wasn’t expecting ‘Short Term 12’ to be the emotional rollercoaster experience that it is. It came totally out of left field (at least to me). I know that the movie premiered at a number of film festivals, but there wasn’t much buzz about it. Until now…
Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, ‘Short Term 12’ follows Grace (Brie Larson), an early-20s supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers. Passionate and tough, she seems to have it all under control; but, with the arrival of a new intake at the facility and the impending departure of another, her life is shaken up.
This is a great movie; not merely a “very good” one but a “great” one. It’s a very original film with uniformly excellent performances. The entire thing feels natural and there isn’t a single inauthentic moment in the entire picture. Mr.Cretton is said to have worked in a foster-care home; this, coupled with the fact that he comes from a documentary background gives the movie its naturalistic feel. He uses close-ups and long takes and there is very little music forcing you to feel a certain way. The script avoids placing its young actors into feel-good gooey cutesy territory. The relationship between Brie Larson’s character and John Gallagher Jr. (who sports the five-year boy haircut here as he has on ‘The Newsroom’) is terrific; their relationship (and everything about this movie) feels honest and real.
Now, the idea of this movie sounds like a downer; you would think a movie about teenagers who cut themselves and have substance abuse issues would put a heavy amount of weight on serious issues (on paper, this may seem like a laugh-free experience). Not the case; the filmmakers finds some absurd humor in the intensity of these characters’ situations and the oddity of their lives. But, the film does have its upsetting moments.
What’s interesting about the adult characters is that you find out the different motivations as to why they have chosen this line of work. The John Gallagher Jr. character grew up as a foster child himself and was raised by great foster parents – there is a lovely scene where we meet his foster parents at their anniversary party (as well as the many foster kids they raised throughout the years). It’s clear that this character’s motivation comes from a place of love and that he wants to pay it forward. Grace’s motivation is entirely different; she’s a formerly troubled teen herself now hoping to guide others along the right path. Her character is one some of us can relate to – one that puts herself on the back burner for the sake of other.
What a performance from Brie Larson – you probably don’t recognize her by name. In fact, I had to refer to IMDB to recall some of her previous work. Don’t misinterpret this as a negative – this, to me, is what makes a great performer. She has this chameleon quality in which we register the character she’s playing because we get lost in the performance. I didn’t like ‘Don Jon’ but she was probably the best thing about the movie. She was in ‘The Spectacular Now’ which received critical acclaim and was a hit at Sundance. And she was also in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’. Let me just say it – she is great in everything. There is something about her that just grabs you; if I had to pinpoint what makes her so appealing in this movie, I would say that she seems grounded and accessible but also has secrets.
The film has a large ensemble and no one gets lost in the shuffle – every actor has their moment to shine. But, this is Grace’s story and Brie Larson’s film to carry. I already look forward to next film and I know that she has a long and terrific film career ahead of her.
‘Short Term 12’ isn’t just one of the best films of the year – it is one of the most honest portrayals of troubled youth I have ever seen. It provided me with the opportunity to truly appreciate the people who dedicate their lives towards helping the underprivileged. ‘Short Term 12’ is a small gem and the lump it leaves in your throat feels earned.
Note: Despite my praise for the film, I have a friend who refuses to see the movie because of the shaky cam aesthetic. This should not be a deterrent; ‘Short Term 12’ is not a Paul Greengrass film (as much as I loved ‘Captain Phillips’, I could see how the technique could render many seasick). QED.