This movie takes place at a foster care facility and focuses on one of its supervisors, a 20-something named Grace. She’s fairly quiet, but very dedicated to her job. Her daily duties include getting the kids up in the morning, playing recreational activities with them, and occasionally dealing with some of the troubled kids as they lip off, throw tantrums, or sometimes even try running away. Grace is in a relationship with one of her co-workers, Mason, a patient young man who wants nothing more than to marry her. But she has chosen to keep their relationship discreet, so it won’t create drama at work. There is also a new foster kid who arrives at the facility, a young teen named Jayden, who has severe emotional problems. This touches a chord with Grace as she finds out that she has a lot in common with Jayden, which causes Grace to face some of feelings that she’s kept inside for a long time.
It’s very difficult for a film like this not to feel like an afterschool special. When dealing with heavy thematic issues like this, it’s very easy to fall into schmaltzy melodrama. But that’s not the case here. Fortunately, writer/director Destin Cretton has found a natural way to tell this story. For the most part, the movie has an overall raw and loose vibe that comes across very genuine. The story is full of all sorts of memorable characters who live at the facility. There’s the angry urban kid who expresses himself by creating rap songs, the bully, and the autistic kid who tries to runaway every chance he gets. Seeing how Grace, Mason and the other workers deal with them on a daily basis is kind of fascinating to watch. The way they deal with some pretty big problems and issues like it’s “no big deal”, I found pretty neat. They deal with situations with tender care, but also with a small amount of humor. Like when one of the kids smashes a cupcake in Grace’s face while throwing a tantrum, Mason looks at her and asks, “How was my cupcake?”. It’s little moments like this that give the movie it’s charm and likability. The humor isn’t broad. Just a little sprinkle here and there just enough to give it a certain realism.
The character of Grace is beautifully developed. We see how she holds in her emotions and problems, and we know it’s going to all come out at any given moment. It’s a little draining to watch, but I really cared for her. The relationship between her and Mason felt very real and honest. That’s how couples really act, I think. Also the relationship that Grace builds with Jayden is very endearing. My only problem with the story is that there is one plot point that felt very clichéd. It’s the type of thing that happens in every movie of this sort. I was thinking about it when the movie first started, and was hoping it wouldn’t go there. But it did, and I kind of rolled my eyes. That said though, the scene is still acted and directed with care. I just thought it was too easy to go that route. Otherwise, the story is refreshing.
Brie Larson was known to me because of the part she played in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (she was Scott’s ex-girlfriend). Here, she wears little or no makeup (which makes her that more attractive to me. I’m not a makeup dude), and she completely throws herself into the character. It’s a quietly intense performance, full of raw emotion. definitely Larson’s breakout role. John Gallagher Jr. plays Mason. At first, when he’s telling a story about shitting himself, it seems like he’s is going to be the comic relief character, but no! Sure, he has the film’s funniest moments, but that’s just how he deals with tough situations and that felt very real. Gallagher does a great job showing how dating an emotional wreck like Grace can take a toll on someone. He’s patient, but also wants to deal with problems directly. He doesn’t want to bury them like Grace does. Kaitlyn Dever is also really good as Jayden. It’s a tough role to play, due to the trauma that the character goes through, but the young Dever definitely has the chops to pull it off.
Cretton’s direction has that typical independent flavor, which means a lot of handheld camera work. That style certainly fits this movie, but I am kind of getting tired of this style. It’s sort of becoming the indie film standard, and there shouldn’t be a standard. Every film should have a different look and feel, in my opinion. But I’m being a bit harsh. It is really well made. The script is pretty darn good too. The way the story unfolds isn’t wholly unpredictable, but what’s fresh about it is its naturalistic dialogue. The way the characters talk to each other felt spot on. That’s how people really talk to each other, and the relationship between Grace and Mason is handled beautifully.
For folks who love seriously dramatic films, this is certainly going to strike a chord with you, especially if you have a connection with the material. I brought my 10-year-old daughter to this, and she was absolutely engaged throughout. Sure, it’s rated R, but it’s just for a bunch of F-words. Whatever. Not a big deal. They’re just words. It’s a great way to introduce important thematic elements to your kid, especially if they’re approaching their teens. With the exception of a clichéd plot device, SHORT TERM 12 is a tough but charming movie that is full of raw emotion and features a star-making performance from Brie Larson. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for language and brief sexuality (but the sexuality is really just PG-13-type heavy petting, so it’s really just rated R for plenty of F-words).
– Running time: 1hr 36min.