Short Term 12 (opening today) is made so effectively, you almost don't realize that it is a thinly-veiled melodrama. It's the feature-length adaptation of the short film of the same name, both written and directed by Destin Cretton. He definitely is a talented filmmaker "destined" for great things.
His film is set in a foster care home, where troubled youth gather to find some sense of purpose when they have nowhere else to turn. It takes a rare kind of person to effectively mentor these kinds of kids, but Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) seem like ideal supervisors. They are a young couple who spend their days - and will maybe spend their entire careers - trying to make a difference in the lives of the inhabitants of the Short Term 12 facility.
It's not uncommon to see foster care kids make a break for the facility's boundaries, where if they were to reach, the Short Term 12 staffers wouldn't be able to get them to go back. The movie opens with one such kid making a run for it and Mason's story to another new staffer, Nate (Rami Malek), barely skips a beat as they have to run and hold him down.
Slowly, we see the challenges the adults face, as well as the teens being cared for. But the story is moved forward when a real tough - and damaged - cookie enters the picture. Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) clearly isn't ready to be helped, but something about her strikes a cord with Grace. In fact, the two find they are very similar.
The look and feel of Short Term 12 is gritty and real and the strong ensemble cast will often times tug at your heartstrings. As we learn more about Grace's past, we sympathize with the sharp-edged Jayden. We know that Jayden has hope because we see her story in Grace and know that she can make it. Unfortunately, so many of these victimized and/or abused children go the other way.
All of the characters in the film are faced with choices. None of them are perfect. It's dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking but the final stretch of Short Term 12 feels a bit forced in both areas.
But this is a very well-made character study that does a good job of showing that none of us really overcome our problems...we just grow up. Part of becoming an adult is choosing how to live with the cards we are dealt, without folding.
Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Frantz Turner, Alex Calloway
Written & Directed by Destin Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster)
Opens locally on Friday, Sept 20, 2013 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 3 p.m. EST on MYTV20 in Detroit.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time