Short Term 12 won the audience award at last year’s SXSW film festival, but don’t let that put you off. It’s the kind of film that gives “crowd-pleaser” a good name, bearing only some of the dramatic elements that the term implies.
One warning bell is that our twenty-something protagonist (Brie Larson) – a supervisor at a foster care facility for at-risk teenagers – is named Grace. Cue the facile irony that she has problems just like the kids she’s looking after. Additionally, the film is aesthetically negligible, using shaky handheld camerawork and natural lighting to achieve an insta-realism that’s consistently undermined by an overly intrusive, cloying musical score and the schematic tendencies of the film’s screenplay.
That these are only minor hiccups speaks largely to writer-director Destin Cretton’s ear for believable conversation between young people, and the sheer conviction of the film’s cast; the immensely appealing Larson, the love interest in the recent 21 Jump St, carries the film effortlessly, while John Gallagher Jr. is endearingly dopey as her co-worker boyfriend Mason. As Marcus and Jayden, the two admitted teenagers who come into their live, Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever are heartbreaking, each selling their Big Dramatic Moments beautifully. In lesser hands, their characters would have been cringeworthy, but these talented young actors carry the roles with sensitivity beyond their years.
Short Term 12 has been loved by almost everyone it’s played to, and if I don’t quite agree with the rapturous praise, I also don’t want to sell its virtues short, especially considering the ultra-limited one-cinema (Dendy Newtown) Sydney engagement it’s received. It’s warm, openhearted, humane, and – unlike nearly everything in theatres now – could conceivably be someone’s favourite film.
Short Term 12 is showing now.