Short Term 12 Review: Perfection Achieved

Short Term 12 Review: Perfection AchievedOne of the things that Janet Pierson, head of SXSW’s Film division, stresses most during the festival’s week of programming and partying is to watch something on a whim. To take a chance on a film you otherwise might not under normal circumstances. This sage like advice came through tenfold for myself this year as, on my last day of the festival, I happened upon a repeat showing of Short Term 12 and by the time the credits rolled and my tears were drying, I knew I had just seen without a doubt the best film of the year.

It’s obvious from the opening scene of Short Term 12 that this is a tale near and dear to director/writer Destin Daniel Cretton’s heart. Partially inspired by his own time working in a group home setting, Short Term 12 offers a glimpse into the extreme highs and lows experienced by not only the troubled teens that populate the group home, but also the staff. Everyone has their own bit of baggage they bring to the table and Cretton uses regular interactions between characters to either excise issues or exacerbate them; sometimes even a bit of both.

The staff is led by Grace (Brie Larson, in what will easily be the defining role of her career) and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). The pair are immediately likable and have an incredible rapport with the kids of the group home, although Grace is a bit distant at times in their personal life. This is with good reason as the film takes its time to reveal, peeling back layers one by one.

Short Term 12 Review: Perfection Achieved

When a young girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) shows up at the group home, Grace sees a lot of herself in her, good and bad, and goes against the home’s mantra of making their relationships with the kids personal. The more Grace tries to get Jayden to just open up about her troubles, the more Grace’s own bubble to the surface causing her to risk her job, her relationship with Mason and nearly losing her own ability to cope with the hand fate dealt her.

Much of Mason’s time in the group home is dedicated to a young man named Marcus (Keith Stanfield). Marcus has his share of troubles and is desperately dreading his upcoming 18th birthday, as it means he’ll have to leave the group home for good. While almost always quiet and keeping to himself, Marcus has latched on to music as a way of expressing his fears and pains. Mason embraces this side of Marcus and lends to one of the finest moments of the entire film, as Marcus shares a new rap with Mason that leaves him, and the audience, emotionally stunned.

The entire cast is truly extraordinary and operate in a realm all their own, but Brie Larson is the absolute standout. Before seeing the film, I was honestly not terribly familiar with her work but man, does she come out of the gate swinging. Her portrayal of Grace is just superbly effortless. Larson gives herself completely to the role and manages to embody her character’s unwavering good nature and unfortunate downward spiral flawlessly. Whatever awards are out there, just put the balloting part away and send them all straight to Brie.

Short Term 12 Review: Perfection Achieved

Considering this is Cretton’s first full length film, this is a staggering achievement. Cretton already displays an innate gift of storytelling that is lost to much of the mainstream film world. His ability to maintain this group home setting that feels like it could be heaven or hell in the blink of an eye is just a marvel to behold. That he’s already able to capture these incredible performances from his stellar cast is yet another skill to add to the pile. I absolutely can not wait to see what Cretton brings to the film world next.

Short Term 12 is the kind of film that reminds you why you fell in love with film in the first place. It hits all of the right emotions in truly realistic and heartbreakingly human ways. It is a film that will affect you and, in my opinion, makes you all the better for the experience. It is a film that will stay with you, as my first viewing over five months ago has stuck with me. It is a film that demands your attention and rewards you more than many may have thought the realm of cinema was capable of. Short Term 12 is about as perfect as a film can be and I cannot wait to experience it again.

Short Term 12 is rated R and expands nationwide on August 30, 2013.

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