By Gary Murray

Starring Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr. and Kaitlyn Dever

Written and directed by Destin Cretton

Running time 96 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE


Everyone seems to think that they have a messed-up adolescent.  The change from childhood to adulthood has never been a smooth transition for anyone.  No matter how bad you think your situation is or was; it is nothing like what the kids of Short Term 12 go through.   

The story is told through the eyes of Grace (Brie Larson).  She is a twenty-something woman who works at a group home with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.).  Both are damaged persons who work with damaged but brilliant kids.  The counselors are told that they are not the kid’s parents and the newbie Nate (Rami Malek) is warned that the kids will test you.

As the screenplay unfolds, we find that Grace has a father who is in prison so she is basically alone.  She is also newly pregnant and fearful. Mason was part of a foster family.  They both know what the kids are going through.

One of the older kids in the facility is young rap artist Marcus (Keith Stanfield).  He is about to turn 18 and be released from the home.  Though he doesn’t admit it, he’s very scared of the outside world.  In a scene toward the middle of the film, Marcus performs a rap that exposes his fears.  He cannot just talk about himself but he can express it musically.  It is a heart wrenching moment.

Grace befriends Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever).  She is a kid who gets to go home on the weekends but there is something not right at her house.  Grace knows the secret behind Jayden’s eyes because she has been in the girl’s shoes years before.  They are bonded together by tragedy. 

When Jayden reads Grace a children’s story about an octopus and a shark, it becomes yet another tear-jerking moment.  The précis of Short Term 12 is easily summed up by Grace.  She says, “It is impossible to worry about anything else when there is blood coming out of you.”   The story is of how the adults and the kids bond and break over the year.

The film is full of amazing readings by the cast.  Brie Larson delivers one of the best performances of the year as a young woman at a dozen crossroads at once.  End the end, all she wants to do is what is right for everybody but never realizes exactly what she needs to become happy.  It is heartbreaking to watch her go through her pain while going through Jayden’s pain.

Kaitlyn Dever delivers as the young girl trapped in her existence.  Her not being able to understand all that the world brings tears at the soul.  She is another ‘thrown-away’ kid who needs someone to care for her.  The tears just jerk from the performance.

This is a very low-budget affair but it works for the production.  Everything and everyone has a worn look, as if this were a discarded world.   Director Destin Cretton paints a dreary world of forgotten children and the adults who do what they can to make them normal.

The only weakness of Short Term 12 is it tries to tie-up all the loose ends with a bright shiny bow.  By doing that, it hurts the impact set-up in the first hour.  This is a world with no easy answers and Destin Cretton tries to make good in a truly no-win situation.   He should have made his ending more ambiguous. 

Short Term 12 is a great film that I never want to see again.  There are too many scenes that cut too close to the bone.  You just want to take everybody in the cast, hug them and assure them that everything will be alright.  It is brilliant film-making, just not multi-viewing film-making.

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