Short Term 12 (REVIEW)
Here is a film that is so earnest in it’s storytelling, and so sincere with it’s performances, it’s hard not to gain enjoyment from it, even despite it’s constant run in with clichés. The story involves a foster home, made up of children between homes or taken away from their abusive parents. In the midst of the story, Short Term 12 exhibits the following themes: drug use, sexual molestation, depression, anxiety, strained parent-child relationships, and suicide. And despite the onslaught of stereotypes of this genre, Short Term 12 still manages to be a compelling drama, thanks fully to the fervent performances of it’s talented cast.
Short Term 12 would take a high place in the catalogue of well cast films. Movies are only as good as their performances, which is why the material excels here. Brie Larson plays Grace, the head counselor at the facility. Larson has been quietly developing a legitimate resume this year, also starring in the indie feature The Spectacular Now. Here, she exhibits compassion, honesty, pain, and most notably, great strength, a quality I so often find myself unconvinced watching in most of today’s young performers. Here, it feels like a natural part of Brie Larson’s demeanor, helping Grace’s strength seem organic and realistic. You can’t fake or act the type of strength displayed in Larson’s performance. Director Deston Crettin deserves credit for recognizing that and subsequently casting the right girl.
Grace is an imperfect protagonist, always trying to do right for her kids in the foster home, without being mawkish or condescending. Yet as the story unfolds, we learn that Grace endures so many of the same emotional hardships that she tries to calm on a daily basis. Its not until the third act, where she takes a baseball bat to a car do we realize the extent of her troubles. This, ultimately is what makes her such a good counselor, and beyond that, a determined and consistent counselor; her ability to relate and sympathize. When Grace informs the head of the facility that one of the girl’s father may be sexually abusing her, she’s met with doubt. Grace takes on the matters and travels to the girl’s house to retrieve her and bring her back to the facility. Grace almost steps into darkness during this scene, hovering over the father’s bed with a bat. Grace is a fighter, sometimes for confusing and difficult reasons.
This is a star making turn for Larson, who has now proven that she can successfully carry a film, that is heavy on emotion and drama with what appeared to be ease.Not to say Brie Larson necessarily overshadows her costars in Short Term 12, which consists of some of the most ardent performances I’ve seen this year, forcing you to care even despite the character’s confrontations with obvious clichés. Take newcomer Keith Stanfield’s heartfelt scene, where he begins to recite a rap verse he wrote, which acts as an assembly of all the pain he’s suffered in his short life. It’s a one shot take, long, lingering close up on his face, as rhymes of anger come crashing out. Had it not been for Stanfield’s wonderful screen presence and serious engagement of the script, this scene would’ve brought on shutters of embarrassment from the audience.
It’s a bizarre pairing; great, fierce acting and a clichéd script. Rare has it worked as well as it does here. I imagine director Deston Crettin has a masterpiece on the horizon if he were to find himself more subtle material. His film very closely walks along that thin line of compelling drama and awkward sentimentality. Luckily, he and his actors prevail, and remain on the right side of that line.
Short Term 12 is, at times, insufferably indie. Shot almost entirely handheld, each scene’s realism is forcefully trying to be heightened by extreme close ups and a constant wobbling frame. This aesthetic is becoming such a common ground in independent films, it’s turning this cinema into more of a genre than type of production. This tactic would’ve been fresh maybe ten years ago, although in 2013 it feels tired and unfortunately lukewarm, which doesn’t help a film that is already battling banality in it’s narrative.
I’m heavily critical of Short Term 12 despite my enjoyment. It’s a film that is clearly honest and earnest, and compiles some of the best young talent working in film today. It’s exciting to see these newcomers having room to flex their acting chops. It’s reasons like such that make me believe this film could’ve been so much more if only the script and directing exercised a little more originality and subtly. Perhaps thats not the point. None the less, this is a good movie in a year that can’t say it’s housed many.
I’m overtly excited to see where Keith Stanfield’s career leads him. He exudes a great amount of presence on the camera and a legitimate talent for acting. And with a shortage of a new generation of great Black actors, it is my belief that he will fit in to that category one day. Look for him.
1 STAR (POOR) 2 STAR (FAIR) 3 STAR (VERY GOOD) 4 STAR (EXCELLENT)