Grace (Brie Larson) is in charge of Short Term 12, a temporary facility for disadvantaged youths. Along with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr) and her staff, she helps children of broken homes or children of no homes at all as they try to adjust to the world. The foster-care facility, though, battles with young people who may be too badly affected by neglect or tragedy to come to terms with their pasts.
When a teenage girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is assigned to the facility, Grace finds echoes of her own life and, at last, is forced to deal with the baggage of her own life.
Short Term 12 is a film with almost an embarrassment of strengths. Chief among these is an extraordinary cast of young actors, all who deliver killer, naturalistic performances. Keith Stanfield, as Marcus, a young man about to turn 18 and be released into the world as an adult, gives a subtle portrayal of tension and apprehension while Dever balances a tricky role as the belligerent teenager that could easily have eroded audience sympathy but instead carries it off with aplomb.
The real standout is Larson. The film rests squarely on her shoulders and this is a real star-making turn. Resisting the urge to grandstand, she keeps Grace as a calm, almost background presence in the first half of the film. As deeper character layers are revealed, Larson keeps the whole piece grounded and wonderfully affecting.
Surely much of the credit must go to director Destin Daniel Cretton, building on his own 2008 short film, also titled Short Term 12. That piece had Stanfield playing the Marcus role again and proved Cretton was adept at marshalling a youthful band of actors, but the across-the-board excellence must be at least partly attributed to him.
Working against the cast is the story. It is a very familiar set-up and the ‘surprises’ of the movie will be seen coming a mile off by any seasoned audience member. The character revelations are hoary and borderline manipulative and even the faux-documentary camerawork, with its endless shakiness only adds a sense of artifice rather than the realism is clearly aims for.
It is testament to the easy dialogue and the superb core performances that these issues do not derail Short Term 12. The plight of Grace, Mason and their charges remains an affecting one and an uplifting one. The interactions between the characters are convincing and delicate, with a gentle line in humour that really serves to increase the emotional punch of the key moments.
A beautiful film where the wonderful performances and easy dialogue far outweigh the more formulaic aspects of the script, Short Term 12 is a softly-spoken promise of a film. Affecting and lyrical.
The extras include around 20 minutes of deleted scenes, but also some nice behind-the-scenes clips. These show the real sense of camaraderie around the cast, crew and even post-production and music contributors.
There is little in the way of insightful information here, but watching the easy style of Cretton or the crew singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Larson mid-shoot is immediately endearing. A gentle and completely appropriate accompaniment to the film.
Short Term 12 is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.