This is a reprint of my review from when I saw the film at the Brisbane International Film Festival in November 2013. It is #2 on my overall rankings for 2013.
“You kind of have to be an asshole before you can be their friend.”
I still can’t believe I finally saw it.
There are three films I have been dying to see literally all year:Before Midnight, Frances Ha, and this. Coincidentally, all have landed in my top 3, and will likely stay that way.
All three, while very different in themes, share one trait that they do incredibly well: authenticity. In Midnight, its very authentic portrayal of love, relationships and ageing, Frances Ha excels in depicting young life in all its humour and grounding in small moments, and Short Term 12 presents characters and situations that are oh so real and gritty, not scared to show their flaws and make them ‘imperfect’. No one is black-and-white an angel or a devil through and through, like people are. They are allowed to have their moments of anger, tragedy and acting on impulse but still make the audience sympathetic towards them.
This imperfection, particularly in the character of Grace, is something obviously incredibly well crafted by Destin Cretton. In an interview on Grolsch Film Works, Cretton stated that:
“The character of Grace is an incredibly flawed supervisor. She’s really good at what she does. She’s also really inappropriate and desperate at times. She’s trying desperately to heal herself through healing others. There’s definitely a line where empathy can cross over into transference or whatever you want to call it. You’re unhelpfully trying to help yourself through helping somebody else.”
It’s this fearlessness to show ‘both sides’ that is what’s really unique and special about Short Term. It’s not scared to confront the audience with reality, to give the characters stories that are rarely committed to film. In many other films, Grace would not be given the back story she is, or would not do what she does. She’d stay detached, or just not be a character that is constructed at all. There would be no moments like hitting Jayden’s father’s car with a baseball bat, no trying to make sure Jayden doesn’t go back to her father after she reads Grace the story, no telling Jack of her suspicions. Instead, she’d stick to what she told Nate at the beginning: “You are not their parent, you are not their therapist, you are here to create a safe environment, and that’s it”. Real people contradict themselves when the situation becomes close and personal to them, and that’s something that Cretton definitely understands.
Despite these confronting storylines, however, Short Term 12does not get bogged down in its potentially quicksand subject matter, wallowing in gloom. Like real life, it finds humour in the darkest of places, in things as simple as stories (that are maybe slightly exaggerated?) that Mason tells, or games and songs played by the kids.
Outside of the showstopping performance delivered by Brie Larson (she deserves to be in every acting category this awards season) and a breakout one from John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever (she’s actually the person that got me interested in this film when I first read about it very early this year, because she was in an American Girl [as in the dolls] film that I watched a few years ago) and Keith Stanfield offer knock-out supporting turns. In one scene, Stanfield’s character sings a song (dark horse Best Original Song nomination, anybody?) simply to the sound of a bongo drum Mason is playing, in one of the most rawly emotional, heartwrenching scenes of the year, one to be remembered long into the future.
Short Term 12 packs one of the largest emotional punches I’ve ever experienced in a theatre, and is a film that I could write all day about, but sadly it will end up being one of the most underrated of the year, hopefully gaining more recognition for how purely marvellous it is in the future.
I’ve literally been saying at least once a day, since Saturday: “I want to see Short Term 12 again”. The first thing I will do when it’s released is tell everyone I possibly can about how incredible it is. Do yourself a favour, and see it as soon as you can.
Short Term 12 received a limited release in Melbourne (Cinema Nova) and Sydney (Dendy Newtown) only on December 26, expanding to other cinemas around the country gradually, and finally landing in Brisbane today, exclusive to the Schonell Theatre at the University of Queensland. It played Brisbane and Adelaide Film Festivals in late 2013.
M (mature themes and coarse language), 93 mins.