Movie review: "Short Term 12' is simply moving

For the News-DemocratSeptember 12, 2013 

What It's About

Every so often, a little movie comes along that is a natural depiction of life -- raw, hopeful, troubling, confusing. It grabs hold of you and stirs up emotions, and you are forever affected. Such is "Short Term 12," a small gem that is striking in its simplicity and remarkably real in its unsentimental stance.

Do not miss this movie, set in a foster care home for teenagers, focusing on the young workers who do the hands-on care -- not the therapists or social workers dispensing academic answers. Garnering strong performances from a sensational young up-and-coming cast, the movie forces you to invest in these flawed people.

Performances

The standout is Brie Larson ("The Spectacular Now"), who plays Grace, a counselor who cares too much about these kids, but also must confront abuse issues from her past as she works at the facility. She also has stressful situations in her personal life. It is a breakthrough role, and she digs deep. Her co-worker and boyfriend Mason (the sublime John Gallagher Jr., Tony winner for 'Spring Awakening") doesn't hit a false note, either.

As the two foster teens who are the movie's main focus, Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden (a cutter) and Keith Stanfield as Marcus (about to "age-out") will get under your skin. They are convincing as kids with issues nobody should have to deal with in their lifetime, but they've had more than their share of heartache.

What Works

Sure, it sounds depressing. But the kindness and concern of fellow human beings, people who you can connect with while staring at the abyss, touch us. Working through all the tough details of life, figuring out things along the way, is what this film showcases.

Written and directed by Destin Daniel Critton, who worked at a similar facility, it is real, and compelling.

It is one of the best films of the year -- just a believable story, well-told, with a cast that makes you sit up and take notice.

What Doesn't Work

Low-budget indies lack the production values of the more well-financed blockbusters, so there is that -- if people don't like the grittiness of life over a slicker veneer. But that doesn't take away from this film's impact. It is 10 times more real than the tentpole films of the summer, and has more honest emotion in 10 minutes than many two hour-plus films.

4 stars out of 4

Director: Destin Daniel Critton

Starring: Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez, Rami Malek, Stephanie Beatriz.

Rated: R for language and brief sexuality

Length: 1:36

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