Release: Friday, August 23, 2013 (limited)
If you’re anywhere near the local indie theater in town, then your first priority suddenly just became to see this little independent production called Short Term 12, the follow-up film of director Destin Cretton’s I Am Not a Hipster, which was released in January of this year. Now, granted, this recommendation and appraisal might mean a good deal more had I actually seen his first release, but given how profound this picture was I somehow doubt I’ve received an improper introduction. I plan to go back and see Hipster, though this will more than suffice for the time being.
Cretton has cobbled together somehow a beautiful reflection of lives less propitious than many others; an inspirational story which focuses on a facility that looks after at-risk youths for brief periods of time — anywhere from a few weeks up to a year; a few stay longer. Short Term 12 is the name of the place, and its staffed by some rather incredible people. At 96 minutes in length, this theatrical release is actually an expanded version of Cretton’s original, a thirty-minute short titled the same.
The film opens with an engrossing little conversation amongst the staff out front of the building. A girl joins a few minutes later on a bike. This is Grace (Brie Larson), and the other three are Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) — who also happens to be Grace’s longtime boyfriend — the newest addition to the staff, Nate (Rami Malek), and finally Jessica (Stephanie Beatriz). We know zero about these folks at the time of this particular conversation. . . . . . .something about Mason shitting his pants while trying to help a kid. Come the end of the film, we will have felt like we have walked miles in their shoes.
One of the miracles of this little-known gem is how it manages to immerse the viewer in the rawness and intimacy of its world. . . .and in the personal affairs of all who inhabit it. A tightly weaving, at times humorous narrative strings together scenes that alternate between campus and the outside world, though its really more concerned with the goings-on in the halls and rooms that comprise Short Term 12. Within these small, unassuming buildings resides some of the most amiable staff you’re likely to ever see portrayed in movies. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. are wonderful here and their characters are instantly lovable — the kind to completely restore one’s faith in humanity. Their easygoing nature and willingness to express honest feelings indicates how much they care about their kids and their jobs and the positivity radiates powerfully from the screen.
Fortunately the script, also penned by Cretton, is just as unselfish as the lead characters, as it provides ample time for a few of the residents to develop into memorable characters, some of which are as significant as those strong leads.
A few who stand out include Marcus, played by the mesmerizing newcomer Keith Stanfield — he’s one of the older residents who’s being forced to ‘graduate’ since he’s turning 18, and finds it daunting to leave the comforts of campus behind. Then there’s the newest resident who possesses a history of violent behavior, a girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), who’s perpetually stand-offish and hard to communicate with; and lastly, the film is bookended with scenes showing a very strange boy who tries multiple times to flee from the scene but is never quite successful. There are a couple of other strong roles as well, but this trio of characters truly punctuates this film with an exclamation mark.
Given the unsettling subject matter, it’s quite a wonder how uplifting Short Term 12 winds up becoming. And especially after a summer of blockbusters, destruction, mayhem and decidedly darker/bleaker atmospheres in general, it’s nice to experience a film that’s this concerned with the preservation of humanity. . . and not the loss of it.
Recommendation: Do you enjoy leaving a movie feeling just a little more hopeful about whatever situation you currently face in your own life? Are you an optimist? A fan of man? If the answer to any of those is ‘Yes,’ then I absolutely recommend it. This movie is remarkable.
Running Time: 96 mins.
Quoted: “You are the weirdest, most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”
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