The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Short Term 12 | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Short Term 12

A supervisor at a home for troubled teens throws herself emotionally into her work while ignoring her personal issues.

Directed by: Destin Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr, Kaitlyn Dever

Grace (Larsen) is a supervisor at the title facility, a foster home for troubled teens. Though it remains a secret from their charges, Grace and coworker Mason (Gallagher Jr) are lovers who live together. When Grace learns she is pregnant she initially keeps it a secret from Mason, placing a strain on their relationship as Mason grows tired of her mistrust. When a teenage girl, Jayden (Dever), with a history of self-mutilation arrives at the home, Grace is reminded of her own troubled past. Another kid under her charge is Marcus, due to leave in a couple of weeks when he turns 18, but seemingly unprepared for life in the outside world.
Recent movies dealing with the issue of care-giving (the obnoxious 'Thanks For Sharing' and last year's 'Smashed') have tended to adopt a patronizing tone, in no way reflective of real life. The setup of 'Short Term 12' in the wrong hands could have easily been another offensive story of flawless white people saving minorities but writer-director Cretton (adapting a story he previously filmed as a short) gives us protagonists who are as flawed as those under their care.
Grace constantly tells her kids they need to verbalize their issues, something she refuses to do herself, much to the annoyance of her incredibly patient boyfriend Mason. Explaining why she cut herself as teen, she tells Jayden "When there's blood coming out of you, you don't have time to worry about anything else" and this seems to be her motivation for caring for others, allowing herself to forget about her own troubled background by focusing on others' more urgent problems.
I don't know if Cretton has a background of working in facilities like this, and I've never experienced one myself, but his portrayal of this world is thoroughly naturalistic and convincing, if slightly too good to be true. I've always loved movies that take you inside an unfamiliar lifestyle, be it the ambulance drivers of 'Mother, Jugs & Speed' or the cops of 'The New Centurions' (a movie this is very reminiscent of), and allow the rules and processes of their world to unfold in a natural way, like being thrown in at the deep end on your first day in a new job.
Larsen is a revelation in the sort of meaty role young actresses are rarely afforded. The ensemble is roundly great though my one complaint is that the kids look a little too clean cut and feel a bit "central casting" when compared to the young untrained actors we've seen a lot lately in European films like 'The Selfish Giant' and 'The Kid With a Bike'.
Though there's a dark undercurrent to the film, Crettin never lets things get too downbeat and avoids falling into the "misery porn" trap. While his film is populated with lovable characters, things never get schmaltzy and you in no way feel like your emotions are being cynically manipulated. Crettin directs in such a quiet manner you can almost imagine him onset in his socks.
I suspect the real world versions of these facilities are a lot more grim but, like Mason's anecdotes that bookend the film, 'Short Term 12' may not be grounded in truth but it sure is comforting.

Eric Hillis