Let me go ahead and say this right at the start. This movie is as close to perfection as can be. I say it that way, because nothing can ever be truly perfect and perfection in itself is a subjective concept.
I’ll be honest this is why I really do Movie Reviews. When something like this comes along and I know that I can’t keep myself from writing about the movie and channeling my adoration into a blog that I can constantly go back, reread and absorb. That’s the prize in all of this.
Short Term 12 is a quietly compelling and brilliant movie. For some reason these are the near perfect movies that get conveniently forgotten. The unassuming genius of such movies is underrated and soon enough it disappears from most minds. Not mine, though. Short Term 12 stealthily touched my soul and changed me. I said that out loud while typing it and the Imaginary People in my head asked me, “How can a story change you?” But that’s the thing my friends, how can it not.
I’m so afraid that I won’t be able to do justice to this review but my desire to write about it is driving me insane. I’m simply whelmed. I will struggle to convey to you what this movie accomplishes and I will make my strongest attempt to make you understand what it is that Short Term 12 did, that other movies don’t. In between all of this, I will sway to the deep recesses of my mind and implicitly tell you things I fear are too personal.
The movie is set in a group care home (Short Term 12) for troubled adolescents and teenagers that is run by Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). Outside their job, Grace and Mason is a couple that lives together and is nearly indistinguishable from a married couple. They are essentially the ideal definition of a couple that loves each other in the rawest sense and have an understanding and connection far superior than most others. All of their scenes outside the facility have a beauty, a softness that is so genuine and endearing. They are not perfect and that is fine.
The entire movie is glued together by the outstanding performances of the actors and actresses involved. While anyone who has paid attention will easily say that Brie Larson who played the lead character Grace is simply amazing and at complete ease with what she’s doing in any scene. Be it at work where she can only provide a safe environment for kids so eager to self-harm and run away, or be it at home where she faces similar problems and can’t even get out of bed on certain days. At the start of the movie, I was unsure if she was the lead character. She somehow blended in and was not noticeable. But I was so wrong.
Enter Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), the punk teenage girl with dark eye make-up and scars on her wrist concealed by bracelets. While it could’ve been so easy to overdo that kind of a role, so easy to act whiny or try too hard to act natural, Kaitlyn effortlessly aces it.
Among all of this is John Gallagher Jr. who plays Grace’s fiancé Mason. He is the eptiome of nice and warm. He brings to the story a certain humour simply with his on-screen presence. He expresses himself with complete ease and his interactions with Grace are all too endearing. Mason is the Person Grace needs in her work life and love life.
I must make a special mention about Marcus played by Keith Stanfield, an almost-adult at Short Term 12 about to leave the facility soon. He adds to the movie that sullen feel of a destroyed young life that is so hard to retrieve. He singlehandedly executes one of the most twisted scenes in the movie and has tremendous potential with his facial expressions. My only wish was that there should’ve been more of him.
While all the other kids at the facility have problems of their own, they all seem to find some kind of odd kinship at the centre. They know they’re all there because of a certain kind of lacking in their lives. Something that came in the way of them attaining a normal childhood.
Various scenes in the facility showing interactions between the children and Mason and Grace are executed with such precise detail it made me wonder how such life-like scenes were even written. It came as no surprise when I found out that the writer and director Destin Cretton worked at a group care home and his personal experiences depicted in those scenes gives the movie due credibility. I’m sure other documentaries have been made on the subject of abuse, depression, overcoming a failed upbringing and an irresponsive family. I’m sure there have been others that were far more emotional and tear-jerking with hard hitting stories about the cycles of abuse and depictions of ‘what is the worse that could happen?’. Keeping in mind all of these things, it’s so easy to cut this movie short. To say that it merely skims waters that others have deeply immersed themselves in before would be an abomination. Short Term 12 has much more depth if you take a step back after watching it and ponder about it.
Short Term 12, overall, is a dark movie which picks up several issues of troubled childhoods and expands on them right from its core. It digs deeper into the psychological aspects of the characters and pulls out revelatory moments. It is rare to find a story that you can connect with whether you have or have not experienced something along those lines. I like movies that are cinematic and entertaining. I also like indie movies which are very intense and focus on emotions. But a movie such as Short Term 12…I’m unsure how I would categorize it. I would first say it is important and then humble and so incredibly introspective. It’s the kind of movie that puts you in the centre of something and makes you question your moral compass. It tells a story that makes you go back and think about yours and find hope in the face of it all. It made me want to think about certain actions and fundamentals that I so strongly held my ground in. I am reeling from a story that wasn’t about my life but makes me think afresh about mine. And even then some Imaginary People will still think a story cannot change you.