Movie Review: Short Term 12

Directed by Destin Cretton and starring the wonderful Brie Larson, Short Term 12 tells the story of a woman trying to keep her life together and she struggles with personal issues at home and a stressful job at a foster care facility. The facility has of a team of supervisors including Grace (Brie Larson), her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), and newcomer Nate (Rami Melek) who do their best to keep a fleet of troubled kids in line. The team has to deal with restraints, violence, breaking down doors and chasing after runaways while simultaneously keeping an open line of communication, trust and respect with each child.

Destin Cretton originally created Short Term 12 as a short but later decided to create a feature version to submit to film festivals. In writing the script he managed to create such authenticity and almost normality in some of the most high strung and tense scenes. Cretton writes his characters with such love and attention that they all become memorable in their own right; Mason is so warm and charming that the audience falls for him within one opening scene; Nate is awkward but relatable as the newcomer to the house of madness; Grace is troubled and dark but so fiercely devoted to the people around her that the audience can’t help but be on her side.

Brie Larson has continuously been described as a “breakout actress” after her roles in comedies such as 21 Jump Street and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World but her role as Grace is truly sensational. It is completely refreshing to see a complex female character on screen. She has been victimized but she does not become weak nor does she take a psychotic path of revenge, she simply tries to recover by pouring herself into her work and spending time with her devoted boyfriend. Unfortunately, things begin to fall apart as her past begins to dredge itself to the surface and Grace does all she can to push those who love her away. By chance, Jaden (Kaitlyn Dever), a troubled young girl with attitude enters the home, her situation and personality seem to mirror Grace’s younger self and the two establish a complicated bond.

Short Term 12 is an important movie because it shows the lives of people that society does it’s best to forget. We know that foster homes exist; we know the situations are sad but we don’t really know what to do about it. This film does its best to explore not only the lives of the children but those who care for them. Cretton cleverly acknowledges that we do not need the details of each child’s story; we can only guess the horrors that Sammy (Alex Calloway) has faced at home, what is important is that we acknowledge that these horrors exist. This is not a film about state officials, psychologists or government funding; it is simply a film that highlights the ordinary people of the world that deal with extraordinary circumstances. What is most impressive is that they manage to find humor along the way.

Cretton supplies a dark world full of silver linings that his characters cling to along their journeys. Mason provides humor, love, and goofy affection whenever possible; he is living proof that every so often the foster care system can work and the children who are placed there can live happy lives. Even Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a boy who has been physically and psychologically abused by his own mother, finds happiness in something as simple as a beloved pet goldfish.

I recently interviewed Destin Cretton, Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. at the premiere of Short Term 12 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Cretton described the challenge of writing from the perspective of the female psyche as “frightening” until he realized that he was not specifically writing a complex woman as much as a complex character, he was writing from Brie’s perspective which also happened to be his own. The idea for the film came to him after working at a care facility much like the one in the film, he described the world and the system as “fascinating” with “so much material” especially coming from a family of six children himself.

Cretton descried working with the kids on the film as a great experience. Keith Standfield especially was a “legend” on set whom everyone adored. When I asked him about the happy ending that he gave to the somewhat dark film, he said: ” I needed it. The characters needed it and I think I owed them. I think the ending was authentic and it was more of a happy moment than a happy ending for each of them. It was earned.”

John Gallager Jr. was just as cheerful and warm off screen as he is on screen, he was more than happy to talk about his role in the film. On discussing his role as comic relief he said he was “happy to wear that hat”. He credited the script for his complex relationship with Brie’s character explaining that everything between the two was written and broken down in the script but that he and Brie did sit down together to work out a back story and figure out how each other’s character would react to the other.

In preparation for the film, both John and Brie visited a training facility for a day to shadow some of the staff, there they learned how to physically restrain children in the correct way. John explained that in “the old days” people would restrain children as if they were adults which would result in multiple injuries so now there is a correct procedure that they themselves learned how to use on set. He explained his experience at the foster home as “eye opening.”

Brie Larson also found the experience to be an incredible one. She described herself and John as sort of “role models” or “leaders” on set to the kids because of the heavy material they were dealing with. She also explained how challenging it was to go home and turn off, describing it as an “important process” because “other wise you’re no use to anyone”. Here is a MoviefiedNYC exclusive: Brie’s Larson’s top tips for getting out of a dark role: “Laughter and cheesy pasta.”
(B-)

Short Term 12 is out in theaters today! Tweet us your thoughts @Moviefied NYC

– Sinann Fetherston

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Twitter: @moviefiednyc
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