Short Term 12

© 2013 Ray Wong

While semi-biographical based on writer-director Destin Cretton's own experience, Short Term 12 is an intimate drama that deals with the psychological problems of the troubled kids as well as their caretakers.

Grace (Brie Karson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr) help run a foster care facility for troubled kids called Short Term 12 -- most kids stay there for less than 12 months, even though there are exceptions such as Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who has been there for three years. Grace and Mason also are secretly dating. When Grace finds out she's pregnant, she has a tough time deciding whether to keep the baby (and tell Mason) or do what she thinks is right as she believes she would make a terrible mother.

Grace and Mason also both came from broken homes. Mason himself grew up in a foster home, and Grace was sexually abused by her father, who is now safe behind bars.  But Grace never really deals with her trauma and she keeps everything inside. Mason, on the other, says whatever is on his mind.

When a new girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives at the facility, she invokes the maternal instinct within Grace. Also Jayden's background reminds Grace of her own, and she suspects that Jayden, too, has been abused by her father. Yet Grace has no proof, and in frustration, Grace lashes out on Mason. In light of their conflict, Grace further believes that she is unlovable and unsuitable to be a mother.

The assemble cast focuses on two leads: Brie Larson (Don Jon) as Grace and John Gallagher Jr. (Newsroom) as Mason. The pair has tremendous chemistry together. Larson is the silent, strong but kind type of girl next door that you can't help but have feelings for. And Gallagher plays the goofy, relaxed Mason with strong conviction and his affection for Grace is palpable. You can't help but root for the pair as they are fundamentally good people with a lot of baggage but not by their own wrongdoing. And they are there to help the kids to cope with similar problems (many troubled kids come from broken homes and child abuse).

Kaitlyn Dever (The Spectacular Now) plays the moody, antisocial Jayden perfectly with both spunk and vulnerability. Stephanie Beatriz (Southland) and Rami Malek (The Master) play the other two workers effectively. Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12) stands out as Marcus, a brooding 18-year-old whose imminent departure from Short Term 12 creates much internal turmoil.

Based on his own experiences and his same-titled short film, the screenplay extends the drama of the foster care facility to include a core romance between the two leads. The result is a much more multi-layered drama that only examines and sheds light on the troubled kids, but also the aftermath of these problems even as adults. While Mason seems rather well adjusted (basically because he grew up with great foster parents), Grace continues to struggle even though she puts up a strong front.

Cretton's screenplay and direction are both intimate and personal, and packed with emotional punches. His down to earth and casual style also adds to the material as there is a certain documentary feel to it. Granted, at times the shaky handheld camera shots made me nauseous. That and the occasional heavy-handedness of the plot and message are my only gripes. Certain parts (especially with regard to Jayden's history) seems too obvious and contrived.

Still, the production is realistic and full of genuine emotions. You simply cannot peel your eyes away from these characters and  you feel deeply for them. Technically the movie feels like an indie, but that's part of its charm. It's not a glossy Hollywood production. With stellar performances from the young actors and the director's keen, personal eye on the material, Short Term 12 is worthy of our increasingly short-term attention.

Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield
Director: Destin Cretton
Writers: Destin Cretton
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating:  R for language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 96 minutes


Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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