“Please don’t be offended if I’m not very friendly, but I’m going to be living with my dad soon, and I don’t really like wasting time on short-term relationships. So, you know, it’s nothing personal.”
Every year, there are one or two indie joints that gain enough traction and festival hype that they can’t be ignored. Everything about them makes me think I won’t like them, but too many people I trust talk them up. So I eventually cave in, and I’d say the results are pretty 50/50 in what I’ve liked and what has bored me to tears. And 50/50 is a pretty good encapsulation of my feelings after watching Short Term 12.
Grace (Brie Larson) works at the titular Short Term 12, a home for kids who are, for whatever reason, no longer under the care of their parents, but the state is yet to figure out what their long term housing situation should be. Grace’s boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr) also works there. It’s revealed they they are both from their own varieties of abuse and broken homes. Which I guess is what makes them able to stand the pressures of their obviously difficult job.
The kids living at Short Term 12 most central to the story are Marcus (Keith Stanfield) an introverted black teenager struggling to come to terms with the fact that he will be forced to leave after is fast approaching 18th birthday. And new arrival Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), who is self harming and may not have the most wholesome relationship with her father. On top of pressures at work, Grace finds out she’s pregnant.
So yeah, Sort Term 12 isn’t exactly a zany, laugh riot. It’s low budget, indie storytelling 101. And depending on how feel about that in general, that will effect how you feel about Short Term 12. It’s hand held camera work, it’s mumbled, moody dialogue, it’s attempts to be real, it’s down and depressing subject matter, it’s frank dialogue and it’s a raw approach to the subject matter. Short Term 12 follows the indie instruction manual to the letter.
Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Formulas exist because they prove themselves to work. It just depends on how the individual viewer feels about the particular formula in use.
Short Term 12 may be the most accurate, relatable, authentic portrayal of what it’s like for children of abuse. Or, it could be the pretentious musings of a privileged film school student who wanted to tell a tragic, heart breaking story, and figured abused kids were the best way to manufacture that heart breaking tragedy. Fortunately, I have zero experience with this kind of stuff in my life, so I really have no idea. I think I could be easily convinced either way regarding this movie’s authenticity.
When the buzz for Short Term 12 was at its loudest, the majority was focused on Brie Larson’s performance. Now that I’ve seen it, I have no idea why. She plays the entire movie on the single mopey, bland note. Maybe looking that disinterested and checked out is the most difficult thing an actor can do and she’s really working her ass off. But all I saw was the same empty, blank expression for 90 minutes that I assume I was supposed to read as tortured and conflicted.
Short Term 12 isn’t a terrible movie. In fact, it’s a well made movie about a gripping, important subject. It’s just not a great movie. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before story wise, acting wise, theme wise, heart string pulling wise. If you’ve seen any feature debut by a director telling a “serious” story, you’ve seen everything Short Term 12 has to offer.