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4.5 stars... "Look into my eyes so you know what it's like"
on 30 October 2013
"Short Term 12" (2013 release; 97 min.) is the story of the people in a youth foster care facility called Short Term 12 (as the kids are not expected to stay longer than 1 year--although we learn that some do). The movie opens with two of the youth counselors, Grace (played by Brie Larson) and Mason (played by John Gallagher Jr.), welcoming a new colleague, Nate. Later on, we learn that Grace and Mason are long-time live-in girlfriend/boyfriend. We then get to know some of the troubled youth in Short Term 12, most prominent among them being Marcus, who is nearing his 18th birthday (the maximum age allowed in that facility) and is dreading to leave. Also prominent is Jayden, a 15 or 16 yr. girl (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who seems very on edge for reasons net yet clear until much later in the movie. Back to Grace and Mason: they try to guide these youth as best as they can, while at the same time they are hitting some rough spots in their own relationship, particularly as Grace learns she is pregnant. At this point we are less than 30 minutes into the movie, and to tell you more would ruin your viewing experience. You'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Several comments: first and foremost, this is a HEAVY youth and relationship drama. Only minutes into the movie (after the laugh-inducing opening sequence where Grace and Mason welcome Nate), we get right away into the thick of things, and it doesn't let up from there at all. Second, there are several scenes that will punch you into the (emotional) gut. When Marcus gets into trouble yet again (for fighting), he takes out his anger by writing a rap song, and sings it, begging the counselors to "look into my eyes so you know what it's like". They can't know, of course. Even harder is the scene with Jayden when she opens up to Grace and tells Grace a child story she made up called "Nina and the Shark", about a shark becoming friends with an octopus. I won't say more, just watch! Third, this is for me mostly a cast of unknowns, and one is better than the other, but I do want to point out Kaitlyn Dever as the troubled girl, she is ace. And then of course there is Brie Larson, who carries the movie on her shoulders. She is the true revelation of this movie for me. Surely we have not seen the last of her. Last but certainly not least, kudos to writer-director Destin Cretton, who made this movie based on his own shortie of the same title of a few years ago.
This movie made quite a splash when it premiered at the SXSW film festival earlier this year, and I had been eagerly looking forward to seeing it. The movie came out recently at my local art-house theatre here in Cincinnati, and I went to see it right away. So glad I did, as I absolutely love this movie. Even better, the screening I saw this at was very well attended for a matinee, which seems to indicate there may well be a strong demand for this movie. Bottom line, if you are in the mood for a quality indie movie bringing you an excellent youth and relationship drama that is miles away from your standard Hollywood fare, you cannot go wrong with this. "Short Term 12" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!