Short Term 12 Movie Review


Featuring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr, Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writer: Destin Daniel Cretton
Movie website:

2013-14 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 17–23 March, 7.30pm
Joondalup Pines: 25–30 March, 7.30pm

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: An auspicious feature debut from director Cretton, tough-minded and tender, emotion-charged yet unsentimental, and built around some striking performances.

Grace (Brie Larson) and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr) work at a centre for disturbed and at-risk teenagers. Coming from difficult backgrounds themselves, they empathise with and understand the young people in their care, and are devoted to doing the best they can for them. Sometimes that involves tough love. When sharp but troubled Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives at the facility, Grace is drawn to her, recognising that they have some personal issues in common. With her own life in sudden and dramatic flux she is confronted with inner obstacles similar to Jayden’s, and the relationship becomes one of mutual support.

The film opens with a group of twenty-somethings standing about as one of them relates an amusing anecdote. The scene comes across like an amateurish hidden camera doco until a boy in a singlet and underpants belts past shouting maniacally, and the group gives chase. A handheld camera follows the action, jerking around like the captured boy, wrestled to the ground now, and restrained until he calms down.

It’s a skilfully handled intro, disorientating, dramatic, humorous and raw, setting the up-close-and-personal, bitter-sweet tone of the film.

Writer/director Destin Cretton worked for a couple of years in a teenage care centre, and this first-hand experience shows up in the stunning sense of realism and authenticity that sets this movie apart from so many others dealing with troubled teens. There is no glorified insurrection here, no rebel without a cause cool. These kids are in care because they have been abused, rejected, abandoned. They are hurt, prone to lashing out, and their behaviour can be unpredictable and destructive to others or themselves, erupting out of nothing. It might appear to be randomly aberrant, but never is. The behavioural motivations emerge naturally in the course of the narrative and character development. The psychology of the characters rings tragically, heartbreakingly true.

All the actors thrive off Cretton’s astute characterisation and excellent script, but Brie Larson’s lead performance is nothing less than luminous. She brings great passion, sensitivity and emotional intelligence to her demanding role as the damaged and complex Grace.

The other standout is Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden, whose intelligence, cynicism and rapier wit are her defences, masking and protecting the fragile abused child cowering beneath. The interactions between Jayden and Brie are rivetting, their developing relationship and the shifting of power and roles within it superbly handled.

So too, Brie’s battle to confront the demons that threaten to derail her future with her giving, caring and all-round decent boyfriend and co-worker Mason (convincingly played by John Gallagher Jr).

It would be unjust not to mention Keith Stanfield’s compelling performance as Marcus, an 18-year-old African-American youth whose fear at the prospect of leaving the sanctuary of the centre after a long-term residence assumes some destructive behavioural expressions. His electrifying outpouring of anguish and rage in a bedroom performance of a rap song he has written is a highlight of the film.

This is an auspicious feature debut from director Cretton, tough-minded and tender, emotion-charged yet unsentimental, and built around some striking performances. Don’t miss.

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