A happy life is something to not take for granted.
You could be one of the unfortunate children growing up in the group home called "Short Term 12." The film of the same title opens Friday across Austin fresh off a successful festival run including both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the 2013 SXSW (South by Southwest) film festival here in Austin.
With each day that goes by, the children of Short Term 12 move one day closer to "aging out" as they turn 18. Upon their 18th birthday, the children must leave the home and are up to their own devices.
Grace, portrayed by Brie Larson ("21 Jump Street"), leads the staff of the group home with an inspiring amount of affection and control as she attempts to mask her own troubles from her troubled youth. Grace must handle her own life while balancing a relationship with fellow employee Mason (John Gallagher Jr.,"The Newsroom") and maintaining a strong leadership role in the home. Each of those tasks alone is challenging enough but wrapped up together they threaten to break the strong-willed Grace.
Larson's performance as Grace sets the tone for the masterpiece this film is. Grace always feels authentic, honest and true. There is no belittling of the situations she faces, the children she's helping or the life she is managing. The pain, immediacy and struggle all feels authentic.
The real stars of the film are two of the children: Marcus, played by Keith Stanfield and Jayden played by Kaitlyn Dever ("Last Man Standing"). Marcus steals the show with his cold, confident charisma and his rapping skills while the film's climax centers around Jayden and her struggles at home. While Larson's performance is by definition the leading performance, it's the performances by Stanfield and Dever that command the screen and drive the film's message home. A film about the struggles of unfortunate children is dominated by the performances of children as it should be.
The power of these performances wouldn't be possible without Destin Cretton's expert direction and screenplay. Based off a short film of the same title, the screenplay for the feature version of "Short Term 12" is a former Nicholl Fellowship winner and the reason why couldn't be clearer. The richness and intensity of the dialogue along with the warm and calm cinematography creates the most accessible cinematic experience that few films, if any, can match this year.
Simply put, "Short Term 12" is a marvel and the finest film of 2013 so far. A little film with a big heart that has and should go on to accomplish even more great things than it already has.
"Short Term 12" opens today in theaters across Austin. More information including theaters and showtimes is available here.