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Sunday, July 21, 2013

SHORT TERM 12 Review

Courtesy of Cinedigm 

2013, 96 minutes
Rated R for language and brief sexuality

Review by Joshua Handler

NOTE: For the record, I am not getting paid by Rooftop Films to write this.  I honestly believe in their film series and love attending their screenings.  I was able to review this film through the Rooftop Films Summer 2013 Series, which features early screenings of hot new independent films straight from the early year festival circuit.  This screening was held on the rooftop of the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn and featured an intro and Q&A with the cast and crew.  Tickets for the upcoming films can be purchased here.  It is a truly unique film series.  Their events make for a great, and cheap at $13, night out in NYC.  There was an after-party with free drinks served that I did not attend.  Please support Rooftop Films and go to their events.  They are among the best film events in NYC.  

Short Term 12 epitomizes the what I love so much about American independent cinema.  The film won the SXSW Grand Jury Award and Audience Award and was written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.  Short Term 12 tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson), a woman who works as a supervisor in a foster care facility, Short Term 12, and must juggle dealing with her own struggles and those of the teens she's caring for.

This is a movie that rides on its honest screenplay and emotional performances.  Brie Larson is brilliant as the caring, yet emotionally closed-off Grace.  Her performance comes from somewhere that few actors have the ability to access.  Grace is a broken soul kept sane by the lives she tries to change.  Larson shows Grace's highs and lows and creates a portrait of a loving woman unable to come to terms with her past.  The maturity and honesty of this performance shocked and awed me.  

As Mason, Grace's boyfriend, John Gallagher, Jr. gives a performance to match Larson's.  Mason wears his heart on his sleeve and works at Short Term 12 with Grace.  Gallagher creates a character with generosity and warmth to spare.  In a party scene (I am intentionally being vague so as not to spoil plot details), Mason makes a toast to some people that he loves and who made him who he is.  This very short, yet incredibly powerful scene packs such a punch because of Gallagher.  The gratitude and love that he shows through his character is beautiful.

As Jayden, the newest teen to come to Short Term 12, Kaitlyn Dever is awe-inspiring.  Jayden and Grace share similar stories and throughout Jayden's stay at Short Term 12, she and Grace connect.  Dever's performance is raw and realistic.  Dever doesn't play Jayden as the stereotypical abused teen that cuts and Cretton didn't write her that way.  She plays her as a real human being that just needs to be loved.  This is a performance that shows maturity way beyond Dever's years.

Cretton's screenplay is a wonder.  With a distinct lack of clich├ęs, Cretton crafts a screenplay that is courageous and colorful.  His characters are all three-dimensional and likable.  The greatest strengths of the screenplay are its honesty and its reliance on small moments' power.  Short Term 12 explores not only the main characters, but the supporting ones (i.e. the kids at Short Term 12) as well.  Each kid is fascinating and by the end I came to care for all of them.  Cretton doesn't sugarcoat anything.  Each kid has gone through something terrible and Cretton explores their situation with the utmost honesty.  Cretton never manipulates the audience with cheap emotion or easy payoff.  To get to the uplifting finale, we go through some really rough patches, as the characters do.

Cretton lets little moments shine and carry much of the film's power.  A look, a gesture, or a simple act of kindness packs a punch.  The subtlety of the film is refreshing.

Short Term 12 broke my heart, but by the end, I feel like I was walking on air.  It is a special movie that is very alive.  It is guided by a director who believes passionately in his material and has a wonderful artistic voice.  Do not be surprised it Larson gets awards buzz later this year.  She is magnificent.  So is the film.

Short Term 12 will be released in theaters on August 23.


1 comment:

  1. It's often heartbreaking, but ultimately the film takes us to a truthful yet positive conclusion.