Short Term 12 (2013).
The beautiful thing about Short Term 12, based on the short film of the same name, is that it doesn’t plead for the viewer’s tears. It doesn’t even tread on the kind of over-sentimentality one has come to expect from what has now been reevaluated as the ‘nice white lady’ film – a film in which a white female protagonist helps economically & socially challenged minorities. In fact, it subverts the characteristics that are generally affiliated to the seemingly hokey and self-indulgent trope. (The children in this film at times make fun of this.) The ‘nice white lady’ trope is completely diminished in Short Term 12 as evidenced by the protagonist at the blistering centre of Short Term 12. Grace (Brie Larson; a revelation) is only slightly older than those she takes care of, and she is just as troubled as anybody living there. Grace is one who works at the titular foster care facility; another is her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). In spite of its direct approach, one might need more than just one tissue to suppress the overwhelming amount of tears that could possibly erupt at any moment. An unflinching, if low-key portrayal of foster care, Short Term 12 is likely to evoke memories of Samantha Morton’s The Unloved, than it is Dangerous Minds.
As the name suggests, it’s a temporary endeavour for the kids at Short Term 12. Of the dysfunctional kids, two of whom rigorous emphasis is put on: Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a young girl with daddy issues (watch out for a harrowing moment in which creative Jayden tells the story of a shark); and Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a young aspiring rapper whose tenure at the home is coming close to an end. (Like Jayden, Marcus exposes a moment of clarity is exposed through the means of a rap song.) As the film progresses the dynamics between the authority figures and the orphans begin to flow seamlessly, and that is precisely what makes the film work. Short Term 12 almost plays a character study more than anything else, Grace, above all is a deftly written and emotionally resonant. It is Larson’s job to anchor the film, almost mirroring Grace’s responsibilies at the care home, and she successfully commands the screen from start to finish. Gallagher Jr., currently on HBO’s The Newsroom, brings along his signature boyish charm and charming affability from the show, whilst simultaneously immersing himself completely into a role that thankfully goes beyond the concerned boyfriend.
Whilst the film somewhat ventures into more heavy-handed material as the film progresses into its final actor, director Destin Cretton deserves plaudits for his ability to keep the film grounded largely due to its minimalist and docudrama aesthetic, and not to mention winning performances from the ensemble. The shaky cam, a now widespread and popular trend in indie cinema, is much to one’s surprise used sagaciously to match the spontaneity of the vibrant adolescents. It’s not garish or obnoxious like it has been employed with past indie efforts (Joe Swanberg, anyone? Garden State?) and is only noticeably conspicuous (but appropriate) when the kids decide to impulsively make a run for the exit. The film, simply put, redefines the ‘indie’ because it goes beyond the archetypal Sundance selections. Incidentally, the film was denied a place at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was subsequently submitted for SXSW, winning the top prize. Their mistake.