Short Term 12 is the kind of movie I love. Small in stature but big in heart, the film far exceeds its own modest expectations to stand among the best films of the year.
Set in a foster-care home for kids awaiting placement, the story of the film centres around Grace (Brie Larson), a compassionate, twenty-something supervisor who cares for the kids with equal parts toughness, humour, and grace.
These are tough kids. Kids who have lost parents, suffered abuse, or worse. It’s a hard place to live, and possibly a harder place to work, but the staff members find their own way to cope with the difficulties presented.
Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), Grace’s charming beau, finds the humour in the craziness of it all, and revels in what he realizes is a “storyteller’s wet dream.” On the other hand, Nate (Rami Malek), the newest staff member and our surrogate into this world, is put off by the kids’ testing and teasing of him, and most of all struggles to connect.
Grace is the shining example. With her mix of playfulness and grit, she meets each of the kids where they’re at, nurturing them and coaxing them to confront the demons of their past, and at times their present.
But while Grace is caring for these kids, we soon realize that she has her own cares to attend to, as her recent pregnancy forces her to confront her troubled past.
Short Term 12 is able to confront these difficult situations head on while maintaining an underlying warmth and compassion (and humour) that is rarely seen on screen. In particular, the relationship between Grace and Mason is filled with such a genuine warmth it’s hard not to want to get to know these characters even more. And in a film that deals with such hard realities as child abuse, it manages to avoid easy answers while maintaining a strong sense of hope that these kids are going to make it through alright– it may just take a long, long time.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton says that much of the inspiration for the film came from his own experience working for a home like this straight out of college, where he collected a number of stories that laid the groundwork for the film. It’s that authenticity that sets Short Term 12 apart from many of its contemporaries.
The storytelling is the film’s shining strength. Each of the kids that populate Short Term 12’s little world have their own story. We get a full arc for Marcus, who is about to graduate from the home — and Sammy, with his wild attempts to escape — and particularly Jayden, whom Grace connects with so deeply. The fact that we get to see so many stories in miniature is a testament to the film’s commitment to the craft.
These are stories I hope you take the time to enjoy.