Sometimes those little films you didn’t see coming will actually come out of nowhere and blindside you, take you by surprise by taking for a ride you don’t want to come down from. ‘Short Term 12’ was that kind of film for me. I didn’t believe it had the power to do what it did, and I didn’t feel like I would fall for it as hard as I did. The premise felt very cliché, a little too cliché for my own taste. I expected this to be something forced, something manipulative and even worse, something derivative of something else.
Been there done that; now go home and write something else.
Still, the raves kept coming. The film that Oscar wouldn’t even dream of touching (I mean, the studio didn’t even send out screeners, which after all the Top Ten mentions would have made sense to do) was getting a lot of outside attention, and the year was turning into the ‘did you see that new girl Brie Larson in that phenomenal little indie film’, and soon I was feeling like a complete outcast because I HAD NOT seen ‘Short Term 12’ yet. I am always late to these kinds of parties though. I have three kids, a wife, a full time job and a shortage of babysitters and so I rarely get out to the movies, and when I do it is usually to a cartoon of some sort, or an event of sorts (I did manage to see ‘Gravity’ opening night). The chances of me seeing ‘Short Term 12’ before it was released on DVD was very slim.
But, DVD is here, and I have officially seen, fallen and championed this film.
‘Short Term 12’ tells the story of a troubled young woman who works at a foster care facility for other troubled young kids. Grace is young and in love, but she is hiding a past that is corroding her identity, making it hard for her to connect wholly with others and even harder for her to hold fast to her future. Her boyfriend Mason is patient, and with some personal news drawing them closer together, he is willing (and ready) to pursue a richer future together, but trouble starts to brew when Grace finds herself tangled in the personal life of the new girl, fourteen year-old Jayden who hates her name, hates her father and draws disturbing cartoons that tell a darker backstory than Grace was ready for. At the same time, ‘Short Term 12’ also shades in the story of Marcus, a long term resident turning eighteen and on the verge of release. His fears about leaving and his plight to remain safe is heartbreaking and adds even more depth to this already insightful story.
Where many films have tried and failed, ‘Short Term 12’ succeeds because it knows how to balance out every layer here. The film never feels muddled despite having so many characters to develop, and each one feels wholly developed, even those with limited screen time. These actors are given such ‘moments’ here as well, scenes that allow them to really get into the souls of these characters and make them come to life for the audience. Between Stanfield’s heartbreaking rap, ‘So You Know What It’s Like’, to Dever’s telling her story of the octopus (I cried so hard) to Larson’s savage attack of a certain person’s vehicle; ‘Short Term 12’ is not short of shocking moments of emotional connection.
And boy does this ensemble sing.
Larson has received the bulk of the praise, sure, but I honestly am struggling to understand why Kaitlyn Dever didn’t get an Oscar campaign. The pain, passion, energy and commanding honesty that comes through in her portrayal of Jayden is electrifying. She completely owns every scene and makes them all feel so genuine, even when she’s having such outlandish and theatrical meltdowns. You know this girl, you’ve been this girl and you want to heal this girl.
Destin Cretton does such a marvelous job of crafting this film to be something so special, so human and heartfelt. This is a perfect movie; a movie that comes into its own and leaves us with a snapshot in the lives of these young people growing taking care of young people, all the while trying to do the best they can when all the odds are stacked against them.
I give this an easy A+. 'Short Term 12' is one of the best films I've seen this year, and it only gets better and better the more I think about it. Oscar snubbed it entirely, but the attention the film has received it incredible.