3 November 2013 | Sergeant_Tibbs
A passionate and powerful film headlined by Brie Larson's terrific performance.
At its core, Short Term 12 is a film about kids looking after kids. That youthful always-learning energy gives it a warmth and sincerity that's extremely endearing and a joy to watch these vulnerable and intriguing characters. It's about outcasts fitting in together and finding their place making it relatable for whenever you've felt alone and brings in a welcoming sense of community. It's Brie Larson's protagonist Grace who heads the entire ensemble on her shoulders. She gives a heartfelt performance, tough on the outside, swirling chaos on the inside, and she's able to get that on screen and develop it in every scene. In the way she is written, she shows the value of a nurturing character and how that can get the audience's sympathy regardless of any negative behaviour. The screenplay is terrific, juggling its arcs very efficiently and delivering comedy and drama in equal doses.
It can get too comical or sentimental at times but its overall maturity cancels it out. With its hand-held photography, it has a raw aesthetic that cuts through potential contrivances and predictability and gives it an involving sense of authenticity. The majority of the scenes are long and dialogue driven, often reflecting on short sharp outbursts or telling stories within the story be it an anecdote, rap or children's story read aloud. It provides an ideal pace and length it to feel brisk yet able to breathe and feel like a fulfilling 90 minutes. It's a film about catharsis and connection after deep repression, and the fact it's about young people makes the tragedies hurt more and the sense of hope more touching. It does have a bad habit of using the cliché of misplaced anger a bit too often, where a character furious at someone will instead hit those closest to them, but the deep rooted empathy for these characters allows those moments to feel at least somewhat justified as we feel that intense release with them.
The supporting performances are also fantastic, characters that although may follow a convention feel like they're coming from a genuine place. It's not often that a film like this would start its story with a relatively optimistic relationship as that dials down the potential for conflict, but John Gallagher Jr. and his chemistry with Larson makes it one we love watching and dread that moment where it inevitably goes wrong. Keith Stanfield is a standout from the younger crowd of actors whose powerful tenderness constantly gave me chills and Kaitlyn Denver who navigates around cliché and provides an earnest and passionate performance. Short Term 12 knows its deck has familiar cards, but it plays them just right. It's nice to have a film that knows that an original perspective is more engaging than original content. Despite its flaws, it's a really great emotional film and definitely the type of film I'd love to make.