Short Term 12 Movie Review
Documentary-style authenticity gives this understated drama a real kick as it explores the fallout of child abuse from an angle we'd never expect. But this isn't the usual devastatingly gloomy approach, as filmmaker Cretton creates people and situations that are so honest that we have no trouble identifying with them. And he remains realistic and hopeful about the future.
The story centres on Grace (Larson), a counsellor at a short-term group home for at-risk teens. She's secretly in a relationship with her colleague Mason (Gallagher), and has a shock when she learns that she's pregnant. The real surprise is how this news dredges up memories of her own troubled childhood. But she doesn't have much time to take care of herself, because she, Mason and their coworkers (Malek and Beatriz) have a variety of kids who need their help. These include Marcus (Stanfield), who's about to turn 18 and move out on his own, and new arrival Jayden (Dever), who keeps trying to run away to see her abusive father.
Writer-director Cretton reveals Grace's personal history only as she's willing to face it herself. This allows Larson to deliver a remarkably transparent performance, as we see her confronting things she won't admit to herself. Her scenes with Gallagher are packed with jagged emotion as all of these issues swell up around them. And we can see that Mason's past in much more stable foster homes has given him more tools to handle these things.
Although it's scruffy and uneven, the film is packed with moments of pointed truthfulness that are both painful and cathartic. All of the actors beautifully reflect the idea that these people are the only real family they'll ever have, and Cretton never shies away either from moments of sharp happiness or the possibility of real healing. As it grips us with its introspective story and lively characters, the film is also quietly reminding us that the facing up to problems we have buried away for years is only the first step.
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