Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Like most years in recent memory, the 2013 cinematic landscape for American movies has been rather bleak for the first eight months of the year. I can count on one hand the number of films I’ll be actively trying to retain in my memory banks anytime in the future (Mud, The Spectacular Now, Drinking Buddies, and maybe Warm Bodies). Outside the good ol’ U.S. of A, a number of good projects have already surfaced but often in such a limited release that I tend to see them during the rest of the year-end catch up session.
Well, while it’s also on a fairly select opening schedule, Short Term 12 has been generating a truckload of buzz on the festival circuit and having seen it, I now know why. The title refers to a short term foster care facility. Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) work there with the largely teenage population and are also in a long-term relationship with one another. The stumbling block for moving forward is Grace’s inability to take the advice she gives out, as she’s locked everything behind some very sturdy walls. The arrival of a new foster kid (Kaitlyn Dever) triggers a response in Grace and … well, I’m not going to give everything away, am I?
First, and foremost, what makes the movie such a tremendous success is the strength of the ensemble. Writer/director Destin Cretton has coaxed out the most intense, raw, and sincere performances of the year. It starts, of course, with Brie Larson. Normally relegated to supporting and typically standard roles, here she gets the chance to shine and she does so like the brightest of lights. She and Cretton have created a woman who is covered in emotional armor and yet there’s a such a tragically beautiful vulnerability that it takes only the smallest amount of movement or dialogue to tell volumes. I tend to hate the term, but saying that Larson is a powerhouse is perfectly fitting in this case.
Not to be outdone, the rest of the cast surround Larson with excellent turns and there isn’t a misstep in the entire bunch. Of special note are two of the kids at the facility. The first is Kaitlyn Dever (showing her range with a character 180 degrees from the one she plays in The Spectacular Now), who starts out with your typical rebellious teen archetype but as the layers are peeled away, it’s a supremely moving performance. The other being Keith Stanfield who also takes a rather stock character but fleshes him out into a fully three-dimensional role. The ensemble as a whole is just top notch and I could spotlight each and every one of them but I think you get the gist.
Focusing squarely on Cretton’s contribution, it’s not so much that he’s crafted the most complex script. Far from it, he’s working with the oft-visited notion of a damaged girl, capable of giving so much to others but unable to accept anything in return. In other hands, this could have ended up some benign movie of the week but Cretton deftly balanced the tones and character arcs – resulting in this triumphant work of art.
Maybe I should knock the rating down a smidge for the convenient story structure but the sheer impact of the performances and the manner in which the movie sinks its emotional hooks into you make it a movie-going experience of the highest order. Short Term 12 isn’t a film people should watch just because it deserves to factor heavily into the upcoming awards season; it’s simply a film people should watch.
Short Term 12 is rated R for language and brief sexuality.
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