Director: Destin Cretton Writer: Destin Cretton Stars: Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. Rating: R Runtime: 96 min.
Films about foster care and underprivileged children seem to come out year after year, with similar stories and cheesy sentimentality. It is often hard to highlight one film out of the pack in this genre that is completely overdone and almost always the same. Destin Cretton’s offering Short Term 12, however, is a rare gem as it is an emotionally charged and honest depiction of what it is like to work in a foster care system, and what it is like to be a child in this situation. This realism can be attributed to the fact that Destin wrote the film based on his own experience working in such a facility, and as a result, nearly every note of this film rings true.
The film is filled with breakthrough performances from its stars Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr., two actors who have been in the business for a long time. They always churn out great performances, but also often seem to go unnoticed. This film should change that; their chemistry in the film is a thing of beauty. It is due to the strong and honest performances from the whole cast that this film is always believable. The directorial style of Destin Cretton has a unique and authentic feel to it as well. He is a director that should be followed closely, because if he continues with features as strong as Short Term 12, he is guaranteed to be the next big thing. He also draws strong performances from all of his actors, as mentioned, but it is evident that through his guidance the actors have built a strong sense of community. The child actors are all brilliant, but the stand-out here is Kaitlyn Dever, who is both confident and heartbreaking in her role as Jayden.
The screenplay is a great success as well, as it balances the extremely heavy and dark material with a constant sense of humour. It hits hard in a lot of places, and deals with subjects as difficult as child abuse, incest, and suicide. However, even with this dense subject matter, Short Term 12 never feels over-the-top or too in-your-face, since it handles these topics with naturalism and grace. Many films tread this subject matter but none have hit it so head on as Short Term 12. It is the demeanour of the film that changes the game. It presents serious stuff, but does not take itself too seriously. It makes for a beautiful and unique cinematic experience.
The subject matter of this film seems likely to ward a lot of people off, but the film is so resonant with life in all of its facets that even the most depressing of subjects do not feel completely dire and gloomy. This film is filled with a sense of hope that is captured in the least contrived way possible, and even though it may leave you emotionally overwhelmed by the end, it also leaves you optimistic about life. It is inexplicable the way the film captures this feeling, seemingly as if it was one of those rare, special moments. This effect was especially evident at the film’s premiere in Locarno, where the film received one of the most astounding standing ovations you could imagine. The audience clearly was overjoyed with love for this film, and it deserves all of it.