Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever
Directed by: Destin Cretton (“I Am Not a Hipster”)
Written by: Destin Cretton (“I Am Not a Hipster”)
If all films were as affecting and emotionally authentic as director/writer Destin Cretton’s dramatic indie masterpiece “Short Term 12,” the moviemaking industry would be a better place. Cretton, in only his second feature film of his career (his first was last year’s scarcely seen “I Am Not a Hipster”), has crafted what is easily one of the best films of 2013. Deeply moving and featuring extraordinary performances by both first-time and established actors, “Short Term 12” is one of those honest and intimate scripts that come out of nowhere to say something memorable and meaningful.
Based on Cretton’s 2008 short film of the same name, “Short Term 12” follows the internal workings of a temporary group home for at-risk youth and the teenagers and staff that form the organization. Supervising the day staff is Grace (Brie Larson), a 20-something young woman who is the heartbeat of the program and knows how to interact with even the most troubled kids. Her extremely kindhearted live-in boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) also works at the facility. He, too, understands how sensitive their jobs are, since he was raised by loving foster parents.
When a new client, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), joins the group, Grace is forced to revisit some of the incidents in her dark past that she has bottled up for years. But with all her attention paid to the kids who need her guidance (Marcus has anger issues and is turning 18, which means he has to leave the program; Sammy is a sweetheart who has emotional meltdowns), there is little time for Grace to confront her own situation head on.
With Grace at the center of his narrative, Cretton has created a genuine protagonist, with deep-seated flaws and an unmatchable devotion for her responsibilities with the kids. Larson is wonderful and the fully-realized character Cretton has written for her is one that few actresses come across in their entire career. Cretton doesn’t stop there, however. Along with his leads, including the perfectly cast Dever, he also handles each of the young personalities as if they were starring in their own movie. Actors like Alex Calloway (Sammy) and Keith Stanfield (Marcus) might have limited screen time (and in Calloway’s case, few words to say), but they’re presence is extremely compelling. In one particular scene, Marcus shares with Mason lyrics to a hip-hop song he has written. In the three minutes it takes him to perform it, Cretton hooks you if he hasn’t already.
Brimming with tenderness, humor, sadness and hope, moviegoers who enjoy rich, character-driven stories need to seek out “Short Term 12” as soon as possible. Far from the melodramatic fare this could’ve turned out to be, Cretton proves to be an impressive storyteller early on. Here’s to hoping the independent film industry has him for a good amount of time before larger studios start throwing money at him. With his talent, it’s bound to happen sooner than later.