Netflix Picks to Binge-Watch Next: Review of Short Term 12
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This is not a pretty film and it shouldn't be. There’s so much loneliness to be parsed through, in the adults and adolescents alike, before problems can be resolved. They are never made perfect, but the film leaves these people better than they started...
Writer/Director Destin Cretton came from his native Hawaii to San Diego to attend Point Loma Nazarene, one of these pristine waterfront getaways that also doubles as a school. Afterwards he went to film school at San Diego State. In between his two stints in school, he spent some time working as staff for a short term home for teens. It proved to be a formative experience and the jumping off point for Short Term 12.
It began as a short film for Cretton’s Master’s thesis, but with the proper funding he turned his modest work into a full-fledged feature project. His story literally bleeds with humanity. It's truthful, gritty and inherently real. The short term facility feels like the real San Diego, the side most visitors don't see: depressed, humble, and full of underdogs fighting the currents of life.
Headlining the modest cast is Brie Larson, who is on the rise with a few more mainstream roles on the horizon. Playing Grace, she channels a spirit that is so affecting in a raw, visceral way. She is the catalyst of the workers who are meant to be a stabilizing force on the kids in their care. Day in and day out they must deal with angry outbursts, insubordination, and sometimes worse. It’s a difficult job, to put it lightly, and yet Grace does the work dutifully with an unfaltering mix of tough love and compassion.
The kids often come from the worst of family backgrounds, usually involving abuse. Grace was one of those kids herself and now she helps others. The staff includes her boyfriend and best friend Mason. With Mason, she is tepid, not ready to let others in after she so readily enters into the lives of others.
The unsteady handheld camera feels a little abrasive at times, but also brutally honest, spending a great deal of time on close-ups. Cretton’s script is relatively simple, still it continually brims with harsh realities and little moments that feel terribly human. It might be Grace sitting solemnly in an abortion clinic, the brooding Marcus throwing down a heartfelt rap, or Jayden illustrating her pain through the story of an armless octopus. The minutiae works marvelously, making these into people who we can truly feel for.
This is not a pretty film and it shouldn't be. There’s so much loneliness to be parsed through, in the adults and adolescents alike, before problems can be resolved. They are never made perfect, but the film leaves these people better than they started. Life goes on much as it had before, and a great deal of hope is unearthed beneath all the debris.