Short Term 12: Underestimated Indie

short_term_12_posterDestin Daniel Cretton expands his 2008 short of the same name into a feature film, one of the indie highlights of 2013.

Critics were upset when this intriguing indie was rejected by the Sundance Film Fest for no apparent reasons–it received its world premiere at Austin’s SXSW, in March.  The film was released theatrically in Augus, but grossed only $1 million at the box-office.

The best reviewed film of the year–according to Rotten Tomatoes, it has 98 percent favorable reviews–Short Term 12 is released on DVD on January 14. You should watch this well directed and well acted drama, which deserves attention for its sharp observations about a little-known phenomenon.

The tale  depicts the daily routines (joys and pains and struggles) of couple of compassionate twentysomething couple, contending with some unexpected life developments while working as supervisors at a home for at-risk teens–what some refer to as underprivileged or troubled adolescents.

The likable protagonist, Grace (Brie Larson), is a sensitive woman, dedicating her life to helping kids who have slipped through the cracks of the more formal educational systems.  Though fully committed to her job and in love with kindhearted co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), she’s still struggling to make sense of her own troubled past, a problem that gets aggravated when she learns that her life is about to change forever.  It turns out that she is pregnant, but she is not sure when and how to tell Mason, and whether or not to keep the baby.

The social dynamics of the place are changed with the arrival of two outsiders. The first is a new worker named Nate (Rami Malek), who on his very first day gets into conflict when he innocently describes his goal as helping “underprivileged” kids, a term that offends the senior resident, Marcus, a black teenager about to leave the place.

short_term_12_3The second, more significant outcast is a young, beautiful girl named Jaiden (Kaitlyn Dever), who’s been constantly shifted between group homes due to dangerous, erratic behavior, marked by sudden eruption of anger and self-inflicted violence.  Almost immediately, Grace forges a powerful connection with her new charge, and this subplot occupies the emotional center of the film.

short_term_12_4But Grace can not open up to Mason in the way she encourages her kids to open up to her. She is going through personal turmoil, while still providing support to the kids who depend on her the most.  Grace could not have had a more understanding and loving companion than Mason, who himself is a product of adoptive Hispanic parents.  In one of the film’s loveliest scenes, Mason and Grace visit his old family which he considers as his real Mom and Pop, without whose love and support he would never have been able to make it in the “real” world.

short_term_12_1You can fault the film for becoming a tad too melodramatic in its last scenes, but most of what is shown is so candid and so compelling that it doesn’t matter.  The circular tale, which begins and ends with the erratic behavior of the same red-haired boy, aptly conveys the day-to-day, hour-by-hour love and work that are involved in such public service.

If nothing else, “Short Term 12” should put on the map not only its director but also its gifted leading actress, Brie Larson, who performance is truthful and flawless.

Credits

MPAA: R

Running time: 96 Minutes
Destin Daniel Cretton.

August 23, 2013.

January 14, 2014.

Cast

Brie Larson as Grace

John Gallagher Jr. as Mason

Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden

Rami Malek as Nate

Kevin Hernandez as Luis

Melora Walters as Dr. Hendler

Keith Stanfield as Marcus

Stephanie Beatriz as Jessica

Lydia DuVeaux as Kendra

Alex Calloway as Sammy

Frantz Turner as Jack

Diana-Maria Riva as Nurse Beth