Troubled Kids, Mirroring Lives
Brie Larson gives a breakthrough performance in Destin Cretton’s very moving South by Southwest-winning sensation Short Term 12, a feature-length version of his 2009 Sundance-winning short that sidesteps all clichés in dealing with its delicate subject matter. As Grace, a dedicated worker at a group home for troubled teenagers with a complicated background of her own, Larson headlines a terrific ensemble, that also includes John Gallagher Jr. (as Mason, Grace’s live-in and work-in boyfriend) and Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Jayden, the new girl, whose arrival widens the cracks already threatening to shatter Grace’s façade.
With just the right directorial touch (and subtle, restrained use of music), Cretton calibrates the elements that could make for a maudlin or sentimental film, crafting a genuinely emotional and touching portrait of both the group home’s adolescents and their sometimes too-engaged advisors—they aren’t therapists, who exist but remain offscreen—struggling with their own internal contradictions. And this is no surprise, as Cretton’s script is based on his own experiences working with troubled kids just out of college.
What perhaps is most tender in this crisis-laden scenario is the light touch and humour that the caregivers bring to the experience: this makes Short Term 12 a little easier to watch, but at the same time it helps to fashion an honest experience of life as it is lived.