The stories behind the at-risk youth in Short Term 12 may be fictional, but there is an element of truth contained within that unnervingly reverberates in an all too realistic fashion. It makes sense. Writer-director Destin Cretton spent two years working at a similar facility as seen in the film, helping him craft an environment that almost feels like it could be pulled from a documentary at times.
The understated brilliance of Short Term 12 is seen through the eyes of those given charge of temporarily watching over these kids, and how perhaps they’re not much better off themselves. They may be older in years and have life slightly more together in the present, but deep down are just as broken and in need of the same things.
Brie Larson is magnificent as our “heroine,” the main person in charge of the center who comes with her own set of childhood baggage. Larson excels in the scenes interacting with the kids, and then turns around and is completely heartbreaking when she doesn’t take her own advice and plunges her personal life into chaos. It’s one of Larson’s first leading roles and will not be the last. It’s easy to tell she is destined for greatness.
The rest of the cast is a proverbial who’s who from recent TV shows, and while it’s a bit distracting at first, they settle into their roles comfortably. John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom) especially makes an impact as Larson’s boyfriend, showing what he’s capable of when given strong material for a change. Kaitlyn Dever is terrific in a role similar to her troubled turn on Justified, while Rami Malek (The Pacific) and Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) make brief appearances as the other staff members.
Admittedly, Short Term 12 may be a little overhyped by critics (it was 2013’s highest-rated limited release on Rotten Tomatoes after all). Some of the melodrama feels slightly manufactured, meaning bad things tend to happen in rapid succession. However, to its credit it persuasively nails the group-home dynamics and is a worthwhile film demanding of a wider audience. It especially should be a must-watch for anyone who works or has worked with teens.
At its core, the story and characters speak to how every person has the same profound aching for love, and it is love that in the end keeps us together. It might sound sappy, but Short Term 12 proves it’s the real deal.