SXSW Winner Short Term 12 is a rare gem of a movie about broken, lost souls looking for their identity outside the shadow of their past.
by Aisiri Amin
Five minutes into the film, you are thrown into a minutiae of the daily routine at a foster home for at-risk teens with troubled pasts. From kids trying to run away to emotional flare-ups to regular room checks for sharp objects, the supervisors headed by the guarded and empathetic Grace (played by Brie Larson) handle all of it with generous patience. The kids at the foster care have gone through abuse of one sort or the other and are slowly learning to live again.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Short Term 12 is inspired by his own post-collegiate experience working at a facility for troubled teens. The film largely revolves around Grace who is struggling to deal with the chaos in her head, which constantly affects her live-in relationship with Mason (played by John Gallagher Jr.).
Things shake up at the foster care when one of the kids, Marcus (played by Keith Stanfield), who is about to turn 18, has to leave soon and Jayden, a 15-year-old girl joins the place. The feisty yet fragile Jayden (played by Kaitlyn Dever) forms an instant connection with Grace and starts to remind Grace of herself, slowly inviting her demons to the surface. Grace’s story is then revealed in deliberate pieces.
One of the strongest points of the film is the supporting cast. There is the rough and intense Marcus who is struggling to escape his childhood trauma, the silent Sammy (played by Alex Calloway) who has limited his world to his dolls which he treats as sisters, the emotionally unstable Jayden, the funny and calm Mason who brings in a refreshing sense of humour, and the confused new recruit, Nate (played by Rami Malek) .
You can’t help but cheer for them, feel the warmth as well as the pain along with them. Beautifully written with exceptional performances, this movie doesn’t let you just be the audience, it makes you a part of it.
Short Term 12 brings you a world that is unapologetically real, funny and uplifting. The emotions are raw, the silence is intense and the pain is heartfelt. The actors bring the characters alive in such a manner that you end up feeling like you are watching a documentary instead of a feature film.
Marcus, in one of his raps, sums up the mess that troubled past leaves behind: “Look into my eyes to know what it’s like to live a life not knowing what a normal life is like.” Through all the unstable childhoods, traumatising memories, and unwanted circumstances, the movie reminds us one thing that we often forget: that only we can save ourselves.
Aisiri Amin (she/her) is an independent journalist specializing in gender, culture, and social justice. She is a struggling optimist, trying to understand the world through cinema, books, and travel.