Abuse is an ugly reality. Its also a stubborn weed reproducing itself in a generational cascade. Identifying the problem is not enough. Someone has to care as well as have the knowledge and persistence to stop the cycle. Rare are those folks.
Films about abuse are generally too graphic or try too hard to camouflage the details. Neither approach reaches audiences to the extent they could be the impetus for someone to take action, rather they cause us to categorize the viewing experience and move on.
Short Term 12 takes a balanced approach with a screenplay that completely amazes; I’m surprised I did not hear about Destin Cretton’s fantastic effort before now; better late. A foster care facility for kids who have experienced some extreme aspects of life is run by counselors who are kids still struggling with unresolved issues themselves. It works and it does so because despite the damage, they care and persist.
The sometimes harsh, realistic lighting combined with a shaky, handheld filming style completely moves this film deep into the bare-bones indie category. There are no special effects, no interesting props, no glamor and absolutely no frills.
Simultaneous heart-warming and heat-breaking performances from the mostly teen and 20-something cast are excellent. Brie Larson, as Grace, the lead counselor who sees herself in everyone of the residents crossing her path, really makes you feel her character’s motivation. The kids abuse makes her relive her own. She delivers the therapist heal thyself paradigm convincingly and urgently.
While not having as much screen time, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, makes just as much impact as Larson. His character Marcus is almost 18, which means he must leave the home and to me, defines the core drama. Stanfield conveys a perfect sense of foreboding bordering on a reaction to abandonment which plays throughout the film with chilling effect.
I don’t usually much care for rap but Stanfield delivers one mid-film filled with rage, sadness and maligned forgiveness as he tries to reconcile a life born of neglect and abuse. The slow emotional breakdown turned strong finish in this scene is riveting.
While ending on a happy almost laugh-out-loud note, Short Term has a serious, possibly culture-bending message for the teen and 20-something crowd – the people who help you the most in life are not necessarily authority figures, parents, teachers or best friends – they are the people who act in your best interests.