“Short Term 12” is the most unlikely of feel good films. In lesser hands, this movie could have been maudlin and preachy. But thanks to a terrific script and expert direction by Destin Cretton and a phenomenal ensemble cast, “Short Term 12” works beautifully.
“Short Term 12” tell the story of a “home” for foster children in California where children can live until they turn 18. When the film begins, Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is on the cusp of leaving; Sammy (Alex Calloway), a child with many demons has just led the counselors on a merry chase around the facility; Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a troubled teen will make her appearance known shortly; Louis (Kevin Hernandez), a wise-cracking tween is making his usual jokes; and finally, Nate (Rami Malek), a new counselor, is getting the welcoming speech from seasoned counselor Mason (John Gallagher Jr.).
Grace (Brie Larson) is the supervising counselor whose world-weary eyes suggest she’s pretty much seen everything. She runs a tight ship, but runs it with love and affection. We eventually discover that she has her own problems with which to deal, and, frankly, isn’t doing a great job of handling them. Although she is in love with Mason, she isn’t able to open up to him about her past. It isn’t until Jayden arrives, in whom she sees a lot of herself, that she is finally able to come to terms with that past, and look forward to tomorrow.
Larson is utterly fabulous as Grace. She had a smaller, albeit important role in the recently released, “The Spectacular Now,” and was very good in it, but her performance in “Short Term 12” is so nuanced that it’s a joy to watch. Gallagher, familiar to many from “The Newsroom,” is given much more to do in this film and he runs with it. His performance is deceptively breezy, and some of the film’s best surprises come from him. Stanfield and Dever are fantastic as the veteran and new residents respectively. They take what could easily be stereotypical roles and give them that extra something to make their portrayals special.
What’s so interesting and unique about “Short Term 12” is that it simply, but masterfully shows us the ups and downs of life. Some days are awful and then there are other days in which everything just seems to click and fall into place. It’s how one deals with the highs, lows and norms that makes us the people we are.
“Short Term 12” is an exceptional film full of new, young actors. One can’t wait to see what each does next.