Starring: Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr.
At a foster care facility for at-risk teenagers called Short Term 12, the workers led by 20-somethings Grace (Larson) and her fiancé Mason (Gallagher) experience the highs and lows of this very challenging but sometimes rewarding job. However Grace and Mason have their own demons, and when a new resident’s troubles seem to replicate Grace’s own deeply troubled childhood, the combination of that and new troubles emerging in her own life lead her to question her life and eventually risk her own career.
Sometimes a film is low budget and genuinely raw and powerful, unfortunately in an age where it is so difficult to be original sometimes films can be intentionally ‘raw’ and ‘gritty’ but because it is so intentional they try too hard to achieve that and become a little too contrived and self aware, and even smug. Unfortunately for me Short Term12 is a film that dangerously flirts with that, which stops it from being a great film, but it still has enough genuine power, believable characters and strong performances to still be an engaging film.
Immediately from the off Short Term 12 uses a generic plot device; through a new worker and a new resident being introduced to the care home we are told all we need to know about how the place works and plenty of information on the carers and the residents. Though that makes the narrative at first feel a little synthetic, it is handy at letting the main character driven story develop.
At the centre is two incredibly strong and believable performances from Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr., these are both characters with their own troubles and we generally care about them. Both capture the repressed inner turmoil their characters feel with authenticity and most definitely elevate the film. In fact the performances from all the carers and residents are perfectly naturalistic and believable, and I would certainly argue it is these strong performances that make Short Term 12 a far more compelling and engaging film than it actually at times deserves to be.
Though there are some memorable individual moments that are in turn devastating, hilarious and life affirming, as a narrative whole for me Short Term 12 just once again falls short of being a great film because of its stylistic contrivances. Grace’s character arc is a bit too text book, Joel P. West’s unashamedly acoustic score boarders on patronising and the final third all feels way too neat and tidy. All these contrivances seem a complete contradiction to the stylistic approach of those making it, but I am afraid to say just had a whole off putting feeling of self awareness and text book narrative which does detract a little from the obvious genuine intentions of those making it
However there is no denying the scenes at the care home are powerful and Short Term 12 most definitely serves as a poignant reminder as to just how much repressed suffering so many people experience through no fault of their own. Short Term 12 also proves as a poignant reminder that humour can be found in difficult situations and it is these moments that most certainly do add to the engagement; there is a part of us that feels a little unnerved that we are laughing too due to the situation these character face, but it does make the film all the more engaging and enjoyable to watch. I of course do not want to go into detail, but the final scene also serves as a poignant reminder as to both the repetitive, circular and almost episodic nature of life at the care home for both carers and residents. Short Term 12 certainly has its imperfections but is most definitely still a powerful and engaging watch.
Though suffering a little from its narrative contrivances and self awareness, Short Term 12 is still an engaging drama containing a plethora of emotions boosted by strong performances from its entire cast.