Release Date: August 23, 2013 (limited)
Director: Destin Cretton
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 9/10
2013 has certainly been quite revelatory when it comes to films featuring young actors. It is even more astounding when many of them are appearing in their first acting role and sometimes find themselves upstaging their seasoned, adult counterparts. Films like Mud and The Kings of Summer featured fine work by their young leads that often rivaled the adults in the ensemble. Through them the films achieved a resonance seldom seen since something like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me. Destin Daniel Cretton’s latest feature film, Short Term 12, not only features solid performances by the two leads but by the young supporting cast, as well. Thanks to Cretton’s writing and directing and the performances by his acting ensemble Short Term 12 proves to be a truly poignant look at the foster care system and the impact it has not just on the children but the people who care for them.
Our introduction to Short Term 12, the name of the facility, comes via Nate’s first day on the job. He’s a wide-eyed, idealistic young follow, played by Rami Malek, who just wants to help. We meet Grace and Mason, two senior staff members, as they explain the day-to-day of the job. It doesn’t take long for Nate to get his feet wet when one of the foster kids makes a break for the exit. Welcome to
Short Term 12. We meet many of the children staying there but one particular stand out is Marcus, a young man on the verge of adulthood which means he will have to leave the facility. Grace and Mason are concerned he’s not ready for the outside world especially when he continually breaks the house rules. Soon a new arrival moves in. Jayden is a young artistic, rebellious and seemingly anti-social teenager. Grace recognizes something in Jayden that reminds her of herself and that bothers her because of her own troubled past. These are just some of the relationships set up by Cretton and the way things unfold is touching, moving, upsetting and at times uplifting.
As mentioned the performances really elevate the film. The two lead teens Marcus and Jayden are played by Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever, respectively. Stanfield is magnetic. He is particularly powerful during a scene where he shares his latest rap with Mason. With every lyric you can feel the pain and the fear that this young man is feeling. It doesn’t feel performed it feels very real. Dever isn’t as flamboyant but her quiet and subtle performance speaks volumes. There are many moments between her and Gloria where you can see the understanding between them even if it is not verbalized. Not to be outdone are Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. who play Grace and Mason, respectively. This couple is like the mother and father hens of the group. They skillfully convey how much they genuinely care about these kids. Larson is particularly strong when she stands up to the bureaucracy when she feels they are making a huge mistake. Gallagher effective conveys the power of foster care in one scene. Together they were particularly effective during a low moment in their relationship, it was palpable. The performances are a very strong throughout.
Adapted from his short film of the same name, Cretton has written a very realistic drama about the importance of connection, the power of healing and the ultimate need for compassion, love and understanding. The film never stoops to melodrama as events unfold naturally. It can be argued that some instances may seem telegraphed but even then it still feels quite real. Despite its emotional hills and valleys Short Term 12 will likely have you leaving the theatre with a smile on your face and a flutter in your heart. This is easily one of the year’s best.
Be sure to check out our interview with Brie Larson and John Gallagher Here.