A group home for at-risk teenagers is the sort of community effort that attracts hefty contributions from philanthropic types at stylish wine-and-canape fundraisers. But most of those party goers (not to mention the rest of us) have never been inside one.
Realistic, honest and intelligent, Short Term 12 gives audiences a fly-o nthe-wall view of goings-on at one such shelter for troubled kids. It’s a place where a roomful of laughter can change in a flash into a shouting frenzy complete with chair-throwing, where a pair of spiteful enemies can find common ground during an outdoor athletic competition, where a thoughtless remark by a staff member can result in a burst of tears, where a brief visit from a friend or relative can create an atmosphere of enthusiasm and hope.
Grace (Brie Larson) is a supervisor at a pastoral facility that provides temporary housing and care for foster teens. Only a few years older than her charges, she’s extraordinarily empathetic and compassionate while maintaining a no-nonsense determination to stick to the rules. With the help of an amazingly dedicated young staff - among them her sort-of-secret boyfriend and housemate Mason (John Gallagher Jr. from HBO’s The Newsroom) - Grace contributes mightily to bringing a sense of security and comfort to the home’s often unstable and fragile youngsters.
Then there’s Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever from FX’s Justified). Overlooked by her indifferent father, this pretty, petulant 15-year old child of privilege suffers from wild mood swings and self-destructive behavior, which explains why she has been transferred from one institution to another throughout her brief life. Grace, whose competence and calm nature belie her own problems and past, is determined to connect with Jayden, whose disruptive tendencies threaten the progress being made by others - including angry, sensitive Marcus (Keith Stanfield), whose fast-approaching 18th birthday will soon force him to leave the facility, with no clear idea where he’ll be going.
The film, which opened this year’s Little Rock Film Festival and won the Narrative Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2013 SXSW Festival, is based on writer/director Cretton’s post-college experiences working at a group home for at-risk teenagers. Cretton’s choice of 24-year-old Larson (Don Jon, The Spectacular Now, United States of Tara) is inspired.
Larson’s Grace is kindly but not sentimental, strong but not a bully, friendly but not a pushover. Anyone who remembers their 20s knows how hard it is to balance such conflicting characteristics, especially in the face of trying to please others. Grace, whose spirit is essential to the power of Short Term 12, has learned early that the only person she must answer to, at least in this situation, is herself.
Short Term 12 90 Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Kevin Hernandez, Keith Stanfield, Rami Malek Director: Destin Cretton Rating: R for language, sexuality Running time: 96 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 10/11/2013
Print Headline: Short Term 12