Short Term 12 is written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, based on his experiences working at a facility for at-risk teenagers. It has been successfully received – it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at last year’s SXSW. Short Term 12 stars Brie Larson as Grace, a twenty-something social worker trying to repress her own feelings whilst helping run the home. Her boyfriend also works there – played by John Gallagher Jr, Mason has a slacker quality which counters Grace’s more uptight character.
They are shown to be good people doing a hard job with great patience. If anything they are too patient and too kind, revealing too much of themselves and their own stories to the kids in their care. That might get the plot over to the audience, but it doesn’t feel likely. More realistic is the advice Grace gives to a new colleague, ‘You have to be an asshole before you can be their friend,’ but she ignores her own advice and shares with some of the children as though they are close mates.
At times the outdoor shots look as though characters are cycling into an Edward Hopper painting. Inside the facility the space changes – there is a sense of claustrophobia. Characters are shot down corridors. Rooms are filmed through open doors, giving an idea of the lack of privacy of communal living. Hand-held camerawork is celebrated.
All the children have had difficult lives but the film focuses on one in particular, a young girl called Jayden played by Kaitlyn Dever who manages to convey the anger and hurt of a damaged teen. We are in a world of self-harming and drug abuse, but the tone is rarely heavy and most things end well. To call it heart-warming sounds wrong given the situation, but it’s not that far off. The film makers have deliberately given the film an optimistic outlook.
Grace and Mason have problems of their own, and it is through their interaction with the kids that they are able to find solutions and move forward with their own lives. To that extent the jigsaw of the plot is too pat, with Grace’s interactions with Jayden and her problems becoming too interlinked and far-fetched. We are surely being shown a very bright side to life in such an establishment, but the film is well-played and absorbing. Cretton has been able to show the cool in very worthy work whilst studying an area of life that is not a typical subject for filmmakers. As such it is a film that should be seen.
The DVD comes with some interesting extras. A 20 minute Making Of documentary reveals some of the technical aspects of filmmaking along with an insight into the relationships between the cast. Everyone clearly got on and had a ball making the film. There is also a short documentary from The Forgiveness Project. This is a British organisation that helps to heal people’s lives by championing the power of forgiveness. It’s not often a DVD includes an extra so deliberately aimed at practically improving people’s olives – that should be lives, thank you Mr Auto Correct. If you want to understand the benefits of forgiveness or need encouragement to forgive then seeing some of the stories on this short film will help.