Language : English | Running Time : 97 Minutes | Director : Destin Daniel Cretton
Talking about pain can never be a pleasurable exercise, not even when paying a therapist to listen to your issues. Making a film about such pain and finding yourself in it is certainly not going to be a pleasurable exercise, especially when it is as naturalistic as Short Term 12 aims to be but with Destin Daniel Cretton directing it, Short Term 12 ends up being transcendental, right from the minute Brie Larson cycles her way into the frame till the minute John Gallagher Jr. and Brie Larson are no longer visible. It could have been painfully critical of things or philosophise to no end but by staying true to experiences, Short Term 12 becomes a movie that should be experienced.
Grace (Brie Larson) and her live-in lover Mason(John Gallagher Jr.) are 20-somethings who work at a group home for at-risk adolescents, the kind where doors are left open to make sure that the occupants don’t inflict harm upon themselves. It is the kind of home were the line staff trade their stories, sport their notches and it is the kind of home where a rap God lives afraid of what is in store for him outside the safe haven. Destin Daniel Cretton stacks the home with people who are of different kinds but people who end up being significant. It has the smart mouth Hispanic kid picking up fights, the nervous big black guy, the wisp of a redhead who makes half hearted attempts at escaping from the home only to end up being held tightly by the staff, the girl who is a mirror of one of the caretakers and the others who bring a mix that highlights the different people in the society.
Destin Daniel Cretton spends time peeping into these people and due to the work of his cinematographer, Brett Pawlak and the locations, the peeping into their lives is never an intrusive exercise but something that turns out to be inviting, emotionally enriching and tears inducing.
As we get to know the inmates, we start preparing ourselves for more and Destin Daniel Cretton’s searching eyes settle on Grace as the central figure. Learning about Grace is an experience that moves you. She is a fearless, brave woman when it comes to her charges and she’d go to any lengths to keep them safe and satisfied but personally, she herself is a wreck. The familiarity that she shares with Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a new resident, is unnerving and though it serves the purpose of bringing Grace’s story to life, it also makes it a bit pedestrian and all too easy for us to take in. Destin Daniel Cretton isn’t fazed by the emotional tower he is building in the movie. In fact, he is most comfortable with the stakes raised, the tower’s height increasing and our emotions fighting to stay down.
For Brie Larson, this should be a career changing performance. A soulful presence on screen, she brings emotional tenderness in one scene and vulnerability in the other. The scene where she faces off with the chief caretaker of the home and the scene where she thinks Luis might be hurt are two of the best scenes in the movie. These are moments where you realise how talented an actress Brie Larson is. She embodies the character with far greater understanding than I could possibly imagine and it is wonderful to see such maturity and talent. John Gallagher Jr. is a beautiful presence who brings calmness to a scene and can makes tense moments seem natural to the proceedings. Effortlessly, he walks into our hearts as a man waiting for his lover to come to terms with herself and also to give herself to him completely. It is not just that wonderful rap that might just be the song of the year that Keith Stanfield excels at, he is lovely as Marcus, the boy about to be forced out of the home. The cast is stellar and the performances beautiful but more than anything, the script that Destin Daniel Cretton has written is simply one of the year’s best. It takes a lot to have an entire theater, around 350 people, crying at different points of the movie. It drains you emotionally but it is a draining that will do you some good. For some, when they start watching the movie, it might seem like another tale about the underprivileged but truthfully, they aren’t any different from you or I. This context is brought out wonderfully during the movie and the scene where Nate(Rami Malek) uses the word, he comes close to getting beaned by a big boy, a scene that should remain with us as the credits close.
Short Term 12 is one of my favourite movies of the year. It is a honest film which earns your feelings without forcing anything down and though the narrative at times seems to be searching for a moment to settle, it never seems disconnecting. It does have small problems with respect to the way the parallels are drawn in the movie or the sudden complications in the narrative but it doesn’t have a fake bone in its body. It is a transcendental experience to watch Short Term 12 and like the stories that the young staff pass on, this is a movie that deserves to be passed on. It isn’t about the underprivileged,they aren’t, it is slice of life. Short Term 12 is simply astonishingly truthful and it is a melodrama that’s done right. Like Sam who returns to his caretakers’ arms when he tries to escape, Short Term 12 keeps pulling you back in, asking for more; revelling in the truth it projects and the emotions it makes us feel. Beautiful!