Some are violent, others are angry. Some scream and shout and run, others sit quietly, waiting to explode. Grace and Mason are trained to handle anything these kids throw their way, but we, the audience, are not. Writer/director Destin Cretton knows this, and instead of exploiting our naiveté, he guides us steadily – never shocking, but consistently leveling us with brutal truth.
Another concept Short Term 12 handles with care is the notion of repression. It’s quite common for people who have suffered acts of violence, especially at a young age, to repress the abuse they endured. And sometimes, a simple reminder is all it takes to trigger the pain. That’s what Short Term 12’s new kid, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), is to Grace. A reminder. When Grace meets Jayden, she immediately sees herself 10 years earlier. The neglect, the pain, the torment. Jayden and Grace’s tumultuous relationship is a highlight of a film, brutal in its authenticity.
Indie darling Brie Larson is killing it this year. She’s perfectly desperate as Miles Teller’s floozy ex girlfriend in The Spectacular Now, and is silently hilarious as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s sister in Don Jon. However, nothing can top her emotionally gut wrenching work in Short Term 12. Indie Sprit Award attention is certain, but an Oscar nomination would be well deserved.
I’m familiar with John Gallagher Jr. only as Jim Harper on The Newsroom. I enjoy his work on that show, but feel that the writing often sells his character short. Mason is a welcome change of pace, as Gallagher proves he can take as many authentically emotional punches as he can throw. Likewise Dever and the rest of the talented young cast who fill the rooms of Short Term 12. Never once do you feel like you’re watching actors. This is as real as it gets.
There’s a scene midway through the film that defines words like “breathtaking.” It’s the kind of scene that makes an entire film worthy of your time. A scene that, while brief, has a slow build up that peaks to emotional heights rarely tapped. It could be the most emotional consecutive 60 seconds from any film released in 2013.
Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is one of Short Term 12’s most troubled kids. He’s a tall, resentful black kid who is days away from turning 18, which will result in him leaving the facility and taking on the world by himself. Marcus doesn’t say much, but when he does, others listen, usually out of fear. The only person who really knows how to reach him is Mason, and in this scene, Mason enters Marcus’ room and asks him to share some of his freshly written lyrics. Marcus instructs Mason to tap on a small drum, creating a makeshift rhythm. Once the beat is set, Marcus looks down at his pad of paper and unleashes a slow, mortifying rap verse that had me physically shaking. It is in the poetic, profane words of this verse that we discover why Marcus is the way he is. Cretton does a great thing by restricting the entire delivery to a single shot, holding the tension until it snaps. At one point, Marcus stops reading from his pad. He doesn’t need to read it. He lived it. A-