(Photo : Cinedigm )
"Short Term 12" is proving to be one of 2013's biggest cinematic revelations and features star-turning performances by Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr. and Kaitlyn Dever. The movie was the winner of the SXSW Film Festival and is certain to garner a following when it is released.
Directed by Destin Cretton, the film explores abuse and the search for identity in a foster home. Grace (Larson), a 20-something year old supervising staff member of a foster care facility, takes care of foster children with her co-worker and longtime boyfriend, Mason (Gallagher). At the beginning of the film Grace is a positive, well-tempered young woman who seems to be in control of the foster children and herself. She guides a new worker Nate (Rami Malek) through his first day at work and even tells her boss Jack, "I take good care of everyone." However, when Jayden (Dever), a sexually abused girl, is brought to the foster home, Grace's life starts to unravel and her deepest secrets return to haunt her.
The film is guided by Larson's astonishing performance. The actress has appeared in several studio films such as "21 Jump Street," "Scott Pilgram vs the World," and Indies such as "The Spectacular Now" and "Don Jon." However this performance will certainly cement her status as one of today's promising young actresses. Like her character Grace, Larson seems to be in control of the situation early on in the film. She smiles, plays with the troubled children, and even gives maternal advice to the youngsters. It is only with her boyfriend that she seems uncomfortable. In an intimate scene when Mason is trying to have sex with her, Grace stops him and says that she is tired. Larson's quiet expression hints that something is not right with this character and creates a strong sense of mystery and anticipation. In another scene, she reveals that she is pregnant and her pensive reaction to the news only reveals that she is hiding something more from Mason. When Jayden arrives, Grace finally expresses her true emotions as Larson's confident expression and voice turn to turbulence. Her movements become erratic and uncontrollable. In one poignant scene Larson embodies violence. She yells at her boss and throws his lamp around when he refuses to talk to her about Jayden. It only demonstrates how powerless and distraught this character can be.
The scenes with Jayden are possibly the most moving and emotional in the entire film. When Jayden reads her a story, Larson's tears slowly materialize until she begins to cry uncontrollably and eventually hugs her companion. In this scene Grace is not only consoling Jayden but also trying to find comfort from someone who understands her.
In the midst of chaos and darkness, Gallagher Jr. adds levity and tender touches to the film. At the beginning of the movie, Mason tells a story about one of the foster children. Gallagher animates and details the story so vividly that no matter how tragic or sad the conclusion is, there is still some lightness and comic elements to it.
In his scenes with Larson, Gallagher imbues tenderness. One such scene is when they are about to have sex. While Mason is living in the moment, he understands Grace and gives her space. He also affirms his love for her consistently and when he is told that he will be a father, Mason assures his tentative and insecure girlfriend that they will be the best parents.
Dever plays Jayden as an unpredictable and antsy character who is abused by her father. When she first arrives to the foster home she is isolated from the rest of the children and does not interact with anyone. At one moment Jayden is happy celebrating her birthday and at the next she is hitting the door and attempting to hurt herself. Only when Grace comes close to her does she start to open up. However she still hides her emotions and her pain to herself. In the aforementioned scene with her Grace, Dever reads the story with a tragic delivery that creates an unsettling effect.
Cretton's direction only enlivens the characters as he shoots the film in a documentary style. The camera is always moving, a characteristic that creates a rawness and truthfulness. It also allows the actors tremendous amounts of freedom and creates more realistic and truthful performances.
"Short Term 12" is by far one of the best films of the year and one that is both enlightening and heartbreaking. Larson will surely be seeing a great deal of awards buzz this fall; if she doesn't she will surely be talked about and her star will shine brightly in coming years. The movie is a must see and one that will stay with audiences for a long time.