Sunday, September 1, 2013

Movie Review: "Short Term 12"

Earlier in the year, a colleague asked me what was the best movie I had seen thus far, and I struggled to find an answer beyond Star Trek: Into Darkness and the zombie rom-com Warm Bodies (which I really did enjoy, BTW). Now, nine months into 2013, I can definitely say I've seen some fantastic, memorable, and affecting movies—Fruitvale Station, The Spectacular Now, The Way Way Back, Mud, Much Ado about Nothing, and now, Short Term 12, which was truly terrific.

Short Term 12 is the name of a foster care facility that focuses on teenagers with emotional issues. It's supposed to be a short-term solution until the county figures out a more permanent solution for these kids, but some wind up staying there for more than a year. The home is run by Grace (Brie Larson, of United States of Tara and The Spectacular Now) and her goofy-but-lovable boyfriend Mason (Tony Award-winner John Gallagher Jr.), who are fiercely protective of the kids but are not willing to cut them any slack.

Grace and Mason's secret-but-not-really relationship is tested over a period of days by Grace's unexpected pregnancy, the pressure of unrevealed secrets, and the arrival in the home of Jayden (Last Man Standing's Kaitlyn Dever), a troubled teenager who tries to cover up her problems with sullen attitude. Jayden ignites a fire into Grace, who recognizes in the girl more similarities than she'll care to admit. Add to this issues with a few of the home's other residents, and you've got a brewing emotional disaster sure to challenge even the strongest people.

Short Term 12, written and directed by Destin Cretton, is a quiet powerhouse of a film that keeps surprising you every time you expect it to take the usual turns. You learn surprising details about the characters, which give you more insight into their actions. There are scenes of tremendous emotional poignancy—perhaps none more gut-punching than a rap song performed by moody Marcus (Keith Stanfield), who is about to be released from the home on his 18th birthday.

While the movie certainly triggers your emotions, at no point is any of the plot overly manipulative or contrived to provoke a particular reaction. Each scene contributes to the overall power of this movie. I was so worried that the film would take a wrong step into familiar, clichéd territory time and time again, and time and time again Cretton's nuanced script shifted, but never misled. Beyond the script, this is a movie that soars because of its performances. Larson, Gallagher, Dever, and Stanfield, as well as those in the smaller, supporting roles, are all spot-on and so mesmerizing.

One of the reasons I love living in the Washington area is the number of movie theaters that show "smaller" and/or independent movies instead of just the same films (in IMAX, 3D, etc.) on 10 different screens. I hope people get the opportunity to see Short Term 12 because it is a film that absolutely deserves an audience. If it comes to your area, see it. I hope it moves and amazes you like it did me.

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