Synopsis: Short Term 12 is told through the eyes of Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers. Passionate and tough, Grace is a formidable caretaker of the kids in her charge – and in love with her long-term boyfriend and co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). But Grace’s own difficult past, and the surprising future that suddenly presents itself, throw her into unforeseen confusion, made all the sharper with the arrival of a new intake at the facility – Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a gifted but troubled teenage girl with whom Grace has a charged connection. She and Mason also struggle to help Marcus (Keith Stanfield) – an intense, quiet kid who is about to turn 18 – manage through the difficulty of having to leave the facility. Grace comes to find – in both her work and the new teenager in her care – surprising sources of redemption. And while the subject matter is complex and often dark, this lovingly realized film finds truth – and humor – in unexpected places.
Release Date: August 23, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
One of the great stories coming out of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival was that of Maui-born, San Diego State University educated writer/director Destin Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster) and his Short Filmmaking Award-winning “Short Term 12.” It took five years, but Cretton finally adapted “Short Term 12” into a full length feature film, and it is worth every second of that wait.
Short Term 12 is about the staff of a foster care facility struggling to help the children in their care. The staff is led by Grace (Brie Larson from “United States of Tara”), who is involved in a clandestine relationship with fellow staff member Mason (John Gallagher, Jr. from “The Newsroom”). When a new admission shows up, a young girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever from “Last Man Standing”), Grace sees a lot of herself in the girl and reaches out to help, but the process exposes Grace to her own personal demons. Meanwhile, Mason finds himself trying to help Marcus (newcomer Keith Stanfield), a young resident who is one week from his eighteenth birthday and, when he becomes a legal adult, will be kicked out of the home. While the adults try to help the kids, they discover that they have problems of their own, and Grace separates herself from Mason at a time when she needs his support more than ever.
Short Term 12 is a triumph of independent filmmaking. It’s got a great story, terrific acting, and a solid directorial vision. The characters are all extremely likeable, yet have flaws that make them interesting; even when Jayden is being anti-social or Marcus is feeling sorry for himself, they are relatable and the audience still roots for them. The film has somewhat of an After School Special feeling to it, but not in a bad way. On the contrary, Short Term 12 has the comfortable familiarity of an old friend while still managing to feel fresh and new.
The narrative in Short Term 12 is an interesting dichotomy. The film is completely character driven, but enough interesting stuff happens to keep it from turning into a slow-burn sleeper. It’s somewhat episodic in nature, with the different children’s stories barely intersecting, yet everything is all tied together through the common bond of Grace and Mason. It’s also simultaneously lighthearted and heavy, with comic moments turning dark at the drop of a hat. It runs the full gamut of emotions, and connects with the audience at every turn. And, in the end, that’s the most that can be expected from a movie. Short Term 12 delivers.
The screenplay for Short Term 12 is based on Cretton’s own experiences working in a 24 hour foster care facility between college and film school. Cretton’s write-what-you-know approach pays off with a script that rings of authenticity and realism. The feature is a perfect expansion of the short film, mirroring important themes and motifs of the short while allowing the story to be fleshed out into a thoroughly engaging, multi-layered movie. The workings of the facility are explained to the viewer in a completely organic way by having the film start with the orientation of first-day worker Nate (The Master‘s Rami Malek), so that the film leaves no holes in the exposition while not spoon-feeding anything to the audience. The entire narrative flows seamlessly, helped along by the well-developed, empathetic characters. The audience can’t help but become emotionally invested in both the story and the characters of Short Term 12.
For Short Term 12, Cretton calls upon cinematographer Brett Pawlak, the same director of photography that he used for “I Am Not a Hipster” and the previous short film “Short Term 12.” Pawlak uses mainly handheld cameras that exude a voyeuristic, fly-on-the-wall type of experience. The film is shot with a very minimalistic style with little fanfare, appearing to use mostly available light and feeling comparable to the cinema verite documentary-style work of Frederick Wiseman or, more recently, Harmony Korine. It’s a very simple style, but it works perfectly for what the film is. There is nothing to distract from what is happening onscreen. Short Term 12 needs no flash or spectacle; it is just a great story brought to life by some brilliant filmmaking. Cretton and Pawlak work well together, and the film’s photography complements the indie vibe that is present throughout the entire production.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Destin Cretton
- Screenwriter(s): Destin Cretton
- Cast: Brie Larson (Grace)John Gallagher Jr. (Mason)Kaitlyn Dever (Jayden) Keith Stanfield (Marcus)
- Editor(s): Nat Sanders
- Cinematographer: Brett Pawlak
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Joel P. West
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA