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Short Term 12 is a masterpiece, and easily the best film of 2012 so far. Brie Larson is the center of a story about the life of people who work at Short Term 12, a place for foster kids who are generally too troubled to be adopted, but not violent enough to be in juvenile detention. There we see an assortment of kids who are trying to deal with their damage, and the people who take care of them, who are also dealing with their own traumas.

The Players

The Plot:

Short Term 12 is a home for kids that don’t fit in foster homes, and are usually suicidal. Grace (Larson) works there with her boyfriend Mason (Gallagher Jr.) and has just found out she’s pregnant. At work there are all kinds of kids, from the relatively well adjusted Luis (Kevin Hernandez) to Sammy (Alex Calloway), who runs away as often as he can and rarely speaks. The latest to join the staff is Nate (Malek), while Jayden (Dever) is the latest at-risk kid. Grace can sense there’s something wrong with Jayden, and that she might be a victim of abuse. Grace’s father is also about to get out of jail, while Marcus (Stanfield) is almost 18 and about to leave the home, so there’s trouble brewing as Grace tries to connect with Jayden, while she also can’t decide if she wants to keep the baby.

The Great:

  • Nuance: When dealing with films like this, with at-risk kids, there is a danger that it could seem like an afterschool special, or that it would feel preachy, or whatever. But writer/director Destin Cretton gives each character so much detail, the world is so lived in, that e even when it has its neat moments, they always feel earned and important. It’s the thing that makes a film great, the sense that these characters existed before the film started and will continue on after the film is over. You feel like you get to know these characters, and understand them. That’s rare.
  • The World: On top of which, you walk out of the film (if you have no experience or understanding of these sorts of care facilities) with a sense of the good work that happens for kids who obviously need help. You can see how the system tries (and sometimes fails) to take care of at-risk kids, and a system that can only do so much.
  • The Performances: Brie Larson is now an actress that everyone should be paying attention to, because she is incredible in this film. As is everyone, Cretton is working with a lot of child actors, but nothing ever feels forced or actor-y. And all the performers get a chance to shine.
  • Empathy: If this film doesn’t make you care about these kids, then you’re probably doing life wrong. It’s hard to think of other recent movies that have made me care this much about the people in the story. When talking about the film it’s hard not to evoke Jean Renoir, or the Italian Neo-Realists in the film’s success at connecting you with the characters.

Overall:

Great films create worlds, and you get the feeling that not only have you enjoyed watching the movie, but that you may look at the world from a new perspective, and may have learned something along the way. Short Term 12 is one of those movies. It sinks in, and there are no false moves.

Rating: 10/10

Short Term 12 opens in New York and Los Angeles August 23, and will start expanding shortly thereafter.

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Trailer: