Short Term 12, a film starring Brie Larson as the supervisor of a foster home for at-risk teenagers, won the grand jury award at this year's South by Southwest film festival -- and if you see Short Term 12, you'll know exactly why. Short Term 12 is a movie that's so honest, authentic, well-executed, and truthful that after seeing it, you can't help but want to cheer for it, root for it, and do whatever you can to let people know about the remarkable thing you just experienced with hopes that they'll experience it too. It's one of those great movies that reminds you why you love movies and the emotions they can elicit and the worlds they can show you. Larson deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance, if not to win it outright. No, I'm not exaggerating -- Short Term 12 really is that good. Watch my ReThink Review of Short Term 12 below (transcript following).
Short Term 12 won the grand jury award for best narrative feature at 2013's South by Southwest film festival, and for good reason. Based on writer/director Destin Cretton's experience working at a foster-care facility, Short Term 12 is one of the best movies I've seen in a very long time, a film of such stunning, sometimes heartbreaking authenticity that you'll sometimes wonder if you're watching a documentary, with a stellar cast led by Brie Larson who, at just 23 years old, definitely, ABSOLUTELY deserves at least a best actress Oscar nomination for her mesmerizing performance as Grace, the supervisor of a foster-care facility for troubled teens. Short Term 12 opens August 23 in New York and Los Angeles, will be rolling out across the country this fall, and will eventually be on Video On Demand. And you've got to believe me that Short Term 12 is an incredibly special movie that you absolutely should not miss.
As Grace explains to a trainee named Nate (played by Rami Malek), the facility is meant to be a safe environment for troubled kids until their parents can handle them or they're found new homes, or they turn 18. While the small team who watches the kids aren't therapists and are only in their 20s themselves, you soon see that they're the ones who understand the kids best and are the ones most concerned with their welfare, best illustrated by Grace's interactions with her boss (played by Frantz Turner).
One of the other facility workers is Mason (played by an excellent John Gallagher Jr.), who was raised in a foster home and is Grace's live-in boyfriend, though they keep it hidden from the kids. They have a loving, supportive relationship, but when Grace is hit with the dual shocks of finding out she's pregnant and that her abusive father is about to be released from prison, you learn that things are not as great as they seem and that Mason has been patiently trying to navigate issues born from Grace's past -- issues that are further drawn out by Grace's attempts to connect with a new girl to the facility named Jayden (played by Kaitlyn Dever).
All of the kids, particularly the oldest and most unpredictable of them, Marcus (played by Keith Stanfield), are so good that I was surprised to learn that they're actors and not kids from an actual foster home. In fact, everything in Short Term 12 feels 100% real, the beautiful and immediate digital camerawork, the realistic locations, the strategies and protocols the staff uses with the kids, to the emotions the characters are struggling to deal with. The movie is often funny, touching, sometimes heartbreaking, but can also be terrifying -- sometimes because of potential danger, but more often from the fear you feel for characters on the verge of making mistakes that could affect the rest of their young lives.
All of this revolves around Larson's truly astonishing performance. This year, Larson as well as Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha have shown us not only a promising new generation of actresses, but ones who've mastered that tricky and elusive acting-without-seeming-like-you're-acting thing to tremendous effect. It'll be a real crime if Larson and Gerwig are left out at Oscar time, or just proof that the stodgy, mostly old academy simply can't grasp the subtlety and difficulty of what these women are doing and will just award someone who cries a lot and can pull off a convincing accent.
But I don't want you to be tricked. Short Term 12 is one of those movies that reminds you what indie films, and really all great films are about, which is real people, real emotions, and the struggle to deal with who we are deep inside and who we hope to be. On every level, there's something about Short Term 12 that just feels perfect and so, so real, while also paying tribute to the men and women, often young and underpaid, who are on the front lines with America's at-risk kids, sacrificing everything to give them a better future than what fate has handed them. Trust me, Short Term 12 is a very special movie, so please remember it and track it down. I guarantee you won't be sorry.