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“Short Term 12”
Dir: Destin Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., and Kaitlyn Dever
4.25 out of 5.00
Movie Review — “Elysium”
MONTE YAZZIE ~ THE FOOTHILLS FOCUS~ 9/4/2013
“Short Term 12” developed into an emotionally compelling film that dodged the over-sensationalized aspects of similar dramas for a focused and genuine perspective. A film set in an adolescent group home, there were moments that felt sincere and authentic in a way that was both accidental and deliberate at the same time.
This aspect was in part due to director Destin Cretton’s own life experience, but also to his skillful rendering of the characters and atmosphere in the film. Both the staff and the young people being cared for were wounded, in both figurative and literal ways— mistreatment marring their lives.
Grace (Brie Larson) is a complicated young woman who is a staff supervisor for an adolescent foster care group home. She works at the facility with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), though the kids and staff members are unaware of this. Their relationship is idyllic, if somewhat emotionally restrained, because of Grace’s scarred past that includes parental abuse. Grace becomes attached to a newly admitted teen named Kayden (Kaitlyn Dever) who bears some of the same wounds as her, both physically and emotionally.
Cretton established an early perspective of simple observation, as the group was introduced and slowly allowed to open up through their actions and amusing stories. The photography was intimate, if a little over-manipulated with a hand-held technique, yet the perspective allowed for an effective invitation into the lives of the kids. The group home location was particularly convincing with walls that look recently patched over and shadows of confining bars that shine through the windows.
Casting was where “Short Term 12” shined, giving a realistic identity to these children that was at times passive, but also occasionally violent. In one scene, Marcus (Keith Stanfield), the oldest of the group, composed an aggressively charged rap verse that was especially moving when detailing the pain of his childhood and the fear of his freedom.
The focus soon narrowed onto Grace, who was especially guarded and slow to reveal anything about her life, even to her to concerned boyfriend. The delicate handling of her personality in the narrative was assisted by the exceptional performance from Brie Larson, who displayed a mix of imposed composure and mounting frustration. Grace was protective, mostly for the kids that live in Short Term 12, but also for her own feelings and concerns about the past she ultimately must face. It was an interesting character that Cretton crafted with deliberate and keen insights from his experience in the professional field. While Grace’s motivations became somewhat familiar, and her actions over embellished to the extent of falling into melodramatic trappings, Cretton’s established narrative elements sustained the focus enough to keep the film from wavering to far off course.
“Short Term 12” had the unique quality of being uplifting even when upsetting. Though some elements became forced and familiar, Cretton’s well-crafted script and interesting characters created a delicate film that was impressively genuine.