Premise: Short Term 12 explores the lives of the workers and residents of a home for at-risk teens.
Brie Larson plays Grace, our main character. She’s compassionate, yet hardened enough to keep control and run the house. Her boyfriend and co-worker, Mason, a kind-hearted, funny, almost impossibly sweet guy, serves as her right hand man. Larson is phenomenal as Grace, and she certainly has great material to work with, but it’s John Gallagher Jr. as Mason who stole my heart.
The Writing: In a film that had the tendency to fall into tired clichés about inspiration kids in hard situations, Short Term 12 keeps things remarkably fresh. I don’t feel like I’ve seen this movie before. It is something new. Something I wish I had written. It is subtle and emotional, delicate in its character work and raw in its hard honesties, sprinkled with truths about life that are offered so casually that they don’t come across as some cheesy lesson.
This is a screenwriter and director (Destin Daniel Cretton) who deeply cares about his characters, and that is harder to find in the film business than it probably should be. Almost every character in the film is fully developed. The character arcs mean something. The motivations make sense. Everything about Short Term 12 is rooted in empathy, truth, and love. God, it’s glorious.
Short Term 12 tells a small story. It’s personal. Intimate. Short Term 12 doesn’t try to be about the whole world. Thanks to Cretton’s careful camerawork, every scene feels intimate and personal, as if the viewer has just walked in on an exchange that he or she has no real right to witness.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Short Term 12 is the way that even its flaws work to its advantage. At times — the last 20 minutes in particular — the film feels rushed. Sometimes it seems as though the characters are acting brashly and irrationally. There are times when things go unsaid when viewers are all but screaming for the characters to speak. But all of these apparent weaknesses actually come together and add to the intricate puzzle that is Short Term 12.
As a film critic (or at least as something resembling a film critic) I like to always be able to find the words to sum up the way I feel about something. But sometimes, there truly are no words to fully capture the essence of a film. This is one of those times. Short Term 12 is great. That’s what I know for sure. It’s quiet and emotional and profoundly great. Maybe the best film of last year. You’ve got to see it.