A 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.
Year 2, Film #80
THE REVIEW: One thing I know for certain about Short Term 12 is that no matter what I write, it cannot do the film the justice it deserves. This is an extremely powerful film that tells the extremely personal stories of Grace (Brie Larson) who is a supervisor at a home for troubled teens and several of those kids. Right off the bat and the most important thing you should take away from this review is that this film is filled with such raw, genuine emotions that deal with topics including sexual and self abuse in addition to many others. When I say what I write cannot do justice to the film I truly mean that. I may have some very minor issues with this film from a technical, storytelling point of view, but I have never been in these people’s shoes. I can only go off of what I see and experience when watching films like these and with Short Term 12 that experience was quite visceral.
Let me start off by getting my one minor cavil out of the way and that is with some of the minor characters. As I’ll get into a bit later on, the characters in this film and the lives they live are the foundation. Without them, this film cannot exist. And for a lot of them — Grace, Marcus (Keith Stanfield), and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) — we get to see a fully formed picture. We don’t necessarily get all the details, but those that are missing are missing for a reason and we understand why those characters want to keep certain things to themselves. For some of the other characters however — like Sammy (Alex Calloway), and Luis (Kevin Hernandez) — we see them quite a lot but are left with big question marks. With these two characters the missing details aren’t actually clues as to who these kids are, they are simply missing details. The only explanation we have for Sammy’s condition is something along the lines of “family” and “needing to learn to let go” and with Luis we don’t know at all why he’s in Short Term 12 (the place). For someone like Sammy in particular I find it frustrating that we spend so much time with him and yet remain at the surface. My complaint isn’t that we don’t know what’s on the inside it’s that we don’t even venture there to begin with.
That being said, the rest of the film has a great balance between character, story, telling us what we need to know, and showing us what they can’t say. Grace and Jayden bond over their many similarities with respect to their father and childhoods and with this growing bond comes many opportunities for growth. When Grace just cannot tell her committed boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) what is going through her head, Jayden is there to bring it out of her. And the same is true in reverse. Grace has such a way with not only Jayden but the other kids as well, to not only understand what they’re going through but also know what they’re going through. To see Grace as hurt and troubled as she is and yet be able to take great and loving care of these kids is extraordinary. The trials and tribulations that the kids go through is a vital part of the film but what I found to be even more striking was Grace’s troubles. It’s because of her that I felt so connected to what I was seeing take place and here’s where I do my best to describe it.
The reason Grace’s story is so powerful, at least for me, is that it shows what a life of someone who has suffered is like. As a kid, she was put through things that no child should have to face and she was scarred as a result. When she discovers she’s pregnant she freaks out and can’t tell Mason because she doesn’t know what to do. She had such a traumatic experience as a child she doesn’t think she can raise one on her own. Then again when Grace learns that her father is being released from prison she freezes up and tries to keep to herself shutting everyone else out. You see someone who is very deeply affected by something that happened so long ago but still plays a big part in their everyday life. On the other hand you see Grace as this wonderful, caring person who looks out for all these kids going through similar experiences. When she’s with them it’s like her past never happened and she can just be in the present looking out for these kids and doing her best to help them. What was so powerful about Grace’s story is that it showed life doesn’t have to be one or the other. It doesn’t have to be a life of pain and suffering or a life of love and caring. Sometimes the two work together. Those traumatic experiences will always be a part of Grace but the question is whether she can channel that into making a difference for those she loves and for those that love her.
Short Term 12 is a film that everyone should see. For a film that’s filled with so many sad bits about troubled teens dealing with all sorts of problems both mentally and physically, there’s also a lot of hope. The two stories that Mason tells at the bookends of the film bring a smile to your face and highlight how rewarding working with these kids is. Even these moments are powerful ones and ones that will stick with you for a while. I griped about some of the characters not getting as much attention and focus as characters like Grace or Jayden. That may be true but it’s a mere blemish on an otherwise perfect film and that blemish is more about being an A+ rather than an A++. I don’t know how good a job I did trying to explain why I found this film to be so compelling. What I do know is that, regardless of my words, Short Term 12 will leave you with an amazing cinematic experience that you will be thinking about and remember for some time to come.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5