What pushes my movie-going experience from good to fantastic stems from a simple emotional response, surprise. It is really something so elementary, but vastly under appreciated by what I will call the “mass.” Nine times out of ten, I leave the theater taking the walk of shame to my car feeling neither used or abused. Like any good relationship, I need some spontaneity from the film industry every now and then. It’s not too much to ask. I won’t lie to you, I’ve been known to cheat now and then. I’ll take the opportunity to go into a film cold when I can, not knowing a thing of the flick I’m about to watch. This raises my chance of surprise almost exponentially. Yet, it feels tainted, not entirely true. But there is a happy ending, as every once in a while, all the pieces fit together.
Talk of Destin Cretton’s film crossed my path a few months back on Collider. Being an outright fan of Brie Larson, I was ecstatic to see her headlining a feature. My interests were definitely there, but I knew Short Term 12 was coming out during the same time as a slew of other films that desperately needed my attention. I wasn’t sure I would have the time. So to the back burner it went, just waiting for a call. Then a week or two ago, more information came to me; John Gallagher Jr. (of “The Newsroom” fame) had a major role in the film as well. Thus, I was sold.
All the short descriptions for this film were pretty much the same. “Short Term 12 is told through the eyes of Grace (Larson), a twenty-something supervisor at a facility for at-risk teenagers.” Short and sweet. We get a quick overview of what’s in store. O, but how that only scratches the surface. Complexity grasps the story, twisting and bending with perfectly aggressive form. Not a single moment goes by without tugging heart strings, emotions going on roller coaster rides, or other useful cliche sayings.
It’s true, the film is about Grace, and she does work at a facility for at-risk kids. You get all that information in the first ten minutes anyways. It would be entirely plausible to think learning of Grace’s pregnancy is the first inciting incident. This is a big moment that changes the dynamic of her relationship with the kids and Mason (Gallagher Jr.). Yet, I say, “not so fast.” For I believe the true turn comes with the introduction of Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever). This is the mini-me forcing Grace’s inner exposure to the audience.
Slowly but surely, Grace’s forgotten wounds begin cracking, yet she does everything in her power to cover them. Her greatest fear is not the past repeating itself, it is trust. Trusting a man, another human being, someone to let in. She is plagued by the experiences thrust upon her. It is sad. Heartbreaking really. This form of living exists, through the faults of the monstrous.
In order to achieve my deepest emotions, the world put before me had to feel like reality. The acting needed to be impeccable on all levels. From character to character, big moment to small. In a word, fantastic. Larson controlled the screen, widening our eyes with every moment. She took us with her up the mountain side, inches us towards the climax. Truly her best work yet, and a performance deserving myriads of worthy leading roles in the near future.
Although sufficient in its prowess, Larson’s performance had the backing of a healthy ensemble. Gallagher Jr. showed a different side of his craft unfamiliar to the mainstream audience, which very much includes myself. His “expansion” (as I’ll call it) was delightful and everything this film needed. Mason’s wit quickly won us over, as him being himself is exactly what we hope “being yourself” means for us. Therefore, it becomes the most natural impulse to root for his success.
I slightly mentioned Dever earlier. Her character is undeniably pivotal to the story’s progression and Grace’s arc. The acting this girl lays out in front of us is utterly absurd considering her age. She doesn’t apprehend all her scenes, but she is able to take one or two away from Larson’s hypnotic clutches. A scene displaying Jayden reading her children’s story is particularly crushing, almost unbearable. Yet the tenderness used cannot go unnoticed as we can finally understand her pain.
The character throughout Short Term 12 I loved seeing the most has to be Marcus (Keith Stanfield). He is solely responsible for a few of my favorite scenes. Actually his scenes are the ones that carry the utmost emotional gravitas. Stanfield plays a seventeen year old soon to be out in the real world. But it is the real world that never seemed to want him. His acting consumes attention through his varied talents and honest interpretations.
So who is this Destin Cretton? He has a few features under his belt, but the majority of his filmography is made up of shorts (he wrote and directed Short Term 12 as a short first in 2008). Basically this is my first run-in with Cretton. And I can wholeheartedly tell you there could not have been a better way for him to get in my good graces. It is safe to say after helming this film, his rise in Hollywood is about to begin. It is even safer to say, because he recently landed a gig to direct Jennifer Lawrence.
I was surprised by what I saw. I was ready to sit down on my day off and watch something marginally entertaining, instead on the screen before me appeared a film near-perfect in form and content. Everything worked. Everything clicked. There was no wasted time or artsy shots for the sake of being artsy. As of now, I boldly rank this film up there with Before Midnight for best film of the year.
Short Term 12 (2013) directed by Destin Cretton