Short Term 12

Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, and Keith Stanfield

There aren't that many films that tackle the issues of troubled youths, so I must always commend those filmmakers who opt to address these often unaddressed issues on the big screen.  The latest film to do so is Destin Daniel Cretton's Short Term 12.  It's a potent little indie centered by the talented young actress Brie Larson, who you may have just seen several weeks ago in a supporting role in James Ponsoldt's coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now.  In this latest indie, she steps up to the plate for her first lead role and knocks it out of the park.

Larson's character Grace is a twenty-something who works at a facility for at-risk teens known as Short Term 12.  Her longtime boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) works there with her.  Together, they're fierce advocates for the physical and mental well-being of these kids who have no one else.  Outside of work, these selfless caretakers have a warm and loving relationship.  Their life begins to get a whole lot more complicated when Grace learns she's pregnant.  Things get even more complicated when Mason informs her that her abusive father will be getting out of prison next month.  To top things off, a desperate girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives at the facility and reminds Grace exactly of herself and her hellish situation years ago.  As Grace begins to be burdened by all the things happening in both her personal and professional lives, her relationship with Mason begins to suffer.

Brie Larson gives one impressive performance in Short Term 12.  The 23 year-old actress demonstrates she's got the acting chops to delve into a complex character like Grace who silently shoulders not only her burdens but also those of her kids at the facility.  She gives us a really layered character who's still scarred by her own troubled youth but is an emotional rock for these kids who are facing their own battles in the here and now.  Larson has all the poise and nuance of a seasoned veteran in her performance.  Given that she's had a string of supporting roles throughout her career so far, it's nice to see Larson in a lead role.  Ultimately, her strong acting carries this potent drama.

The supporting cast does an outstanding job as well.  As Grace's significant other Mason, John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom) does an excellent job bringing a perceptive warmth to his character.  He just plays the compassionate, understanding boyfriend quite well.  Beyond Gallagher, the younger cast members bring emotional depth and discernment to the film as well.  More specifically, Keith Stanfield gives us a layered performance showcasing both of these qualities.  At times, he's the tortured emotional teen confronting adulthood and a life outside Short Term 12.  At others, he's the moral leader of the group who steps up at the right time every time.  Kaitlyn Dever gives a strong performance as Grace's kindred spirit Jayden.  She's just as scarred as Grace and demonstrates this on screen time and time again.

All in all, Short Term 12 is a poignant drama that really puts a unique spin on the relationship between a mentor/teacher and an adolescent.  Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a potent tale about those who don't know what it's like to live a normal life.  Fueled by strong performances from his cast, Cretton gives us well-developed characters who all face a myriad of their own trials and tribulations throughout the film.  Though I have lots of love for this movie, it is pretty predictable and plays as expected for a low-key drama of this nature.  With all this in mind, Short Term 12 gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.