A barnstorming performance from Brie Larson is the reason to see this bittersweet drama of damaged teens.
Based on writer/director Destin Cretton's short of the same name from 2008, Short Term 12 is told through the eyes of outwardly headstrong foster-care facility supervisor Grace (Brie Larson), whose ventures into young adulthood are as stormy as the emotionally-bruised adolescents she spends her days counselling.
This is a powerful human drama told with great honesty and compassion, Cretton's unsentimental direction enabling him to hit upon a truth that puts his film in the same class as likeminded student-teacher parables, Half Nelson being the most obvious touchstone. And, just as Ryan Fleck's 2006 film put Ryan Gosling on the map, Brie Larson announces herself with a where-the-heck-did-that-come-from performance that's already seen her mentioned in the same breath as Elizabeth Olsen and Jennifer Lawrence.
For all that this is Larson's film, however, she's aided by a tremendous supporting cast — John Gallagher Jr as Grace's longtime partner and co-worker and Kaitlyn Dever as new arrival Jayden are particularly good. Just as the staffers at the facility get results by working as a cohesive unit, so the success of Short Term 12 can be attributed to teamwork and collective talent.
The reality of course is that Grace and her colleagues are only a few years older than the kids, which coupled with the film's lack of (responsible) adult figures contextualises the subject matter in a poignant manner. As a young woman faced with life-changing decisions to which there appear no straight forward answers, Grace finds herself inadvertently confiding in one teen with whom she shares an inextricable bond, while simultaneously shutting out those closest to her. 'Growing up is tough' is a message we've all heard before, only here it's charged with a bittersweet rawness that makes it unavoidably, unflinchingly authentic.
Allusions to Grace's own troubled past occasionally feels shoehorned, almost verging on heavy-handed, but that's the only real blotch on Cretton's impressive screenplay, his second feature-lengther following last year's I Am Not a Hipster. After picking up gongs at SXSW and the Locarno Film Festival Cretton has his calling card movie. Where he goes from here will be very exciting to see.
Read our interview with star Brie Larson here.
Festival-pleasing US indie has an all-too familiar ring to it.
Sharp, witty, heartfelt, sad, inspiring.
Larson and Cretton are ones to watch.