In the midst of films such as The World’s End, Elysium, Kick-Ass 2, and numerous summer movies, you become overwhelmed by these movies, full of action and explosions. But then there’s a movie that sneaks in, coming out of nowhere, that makes you stop and think about life. A movie that tugs at the heartstrings and makes you feel emotions reminding you how powerful a simple film can be. Short Term 12 did just that.
This film centers around a group home which houses abused and troubled children and the individuals that work there. We specifically see the story play out through the eyes of Grace, who’s basically the supervisor at the place. We see the kids from an outside perspective at first, seeing their daily activities, from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep. But then it starts going deeper where we meet two children that live there: Marcus and Jayden.
The movie starts out in a joyous tone where Mason, a worker at the home, tells of a funny story involving one of the kids at the home. But then the tone changes when we meet one of the children for the first time, running away from the home, screaming profanities at the top of his lungs. At that point, we realize how serious this movie was.
One of the kids Jayden, has just transferred to the home. She’s an angry child, filled with rage, and masks her emotions with her sarcastic wit. Her journey is done well, seeing how her mind works and the emotions she gives off. We see the growing relationship between Grace and Jayden as they are mirror reflections of each other. Jayden has a haunting tale especially through the story of The Shark and the Octopus seeing the difficulty of her opening up and being ashamed of experiencing it. Seeing Jayden struggle, Grace starts to open up about her past. She too is a troubled individual and we get to see one of the reasons why she works at the home in the first place.
Marcus on the other hand has been living at the home for quite some time and will be turning 18 in about a week. His story was the one that really connected with me. He’s a kid with a tough exterior. His childhood is coming to an end which means he will be an adult soon, meaning that he will have to leave Short Term 12. We see that difficulty of him struggling to face the fact that he will leave the only place he’s called home. He’s gonna leave his sanctuary. We see him grow as a person, seeing his layers be peeled away. He’s a quiet boy, only expressing his thoughts through a rap. After a meltdown he experienced, he opened up letting Mason hear one of his songs. This was one of the most powerful scenes and the most haunting. Just in the span of one song, he opens up and he becomes the most vulnerable. His voice starts off strong, angry and powerful. His lyrics were full of profanities especially towards his mother. But as it plays out, it becomes deeper and his voice starts to crack and his eyes start to water. “Look into my eyes so you know what it’s like, to live a life not knowing what a normal life’s like.” And when it ends with that, it was utter silence both in the movie and in the theaters.
The whole movie was pretty much an emotional fest. But there were upbeat moments. There were surprise, joyous moments, that relieved the tension throughout the film. It crushes your heart at one point leaving you with tears gushing down your face and then the next thing you know, you’re laughing hysterically and you’re smiling with such relief.
What I found most interesting is that throughout this movie, we never see the abusers or any of the abuse played out. All we see is the outcome of those actions. We see the emotional outrage the kids face due to the abuse. We see their point of views of the abuse. In addition to the challenges the kids are experiencing internally, we see them struggle with reliance of drugs and the hardship the system faces trying to understand what these kids need.
Director and filmmaker, Destin Daniel Cretton does a wonderful job displaying a real life scenario of a group home and the relationships the workers have with the children. It could be because he spent a year and a half in a group home as well, just before he attended film school. I don’t think anybody could have done it as well as him. Certain scenes in this film are actually based on real life experiences of Cretton as a worker.
Brie Larson as Grace, is one of the best things about this movie. She plays it real and normal having a subtlety to her performance. Her performance is perfect and stunning playing a person dealing with mixed emotions and one that has a”hot and cold” nature. Her portrayal of Grace is definitely Oscar worthy and should be nominated for one. Actually, Short Term 12 is a film that I hope would be taken into consideration for an Oscar.
If you can’t tell by my review, this movie is a definite must see. It’s one of those films that’s a whole different cinematic universe. It reminded me why I love movies so much. The poignant moments in the film mixed with the upbeat moments were haunting and heartbreaking. The movie never gets melodramatic and “soap-operatic”. It just portrays a realism to these situations. Those scenes mixed with the top notch performances delivered a truly masterful experience.