Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Short Term 12” is a simple film – short, concise and gut-wrenchingly real. At roughly an hour and half long, you find yourself completely engrossed in the nocuous youth led by Grace (Brie Larson) and the rest of the 20-something staff members at a short-term foster-care facility – hence the title.
Grace, along with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), and the rest of the staff treat the children and teens with a sensitivity and understanding that could only be derived from experience. The children are the misfortunate offspring of peccant drug addicts, child molesters and numerous other parental abuses. But through it all Grace manages the cutters, runaways, suicide attempts and violent outbursts, well … with – grace. That’s until the pending departure of Marcus (Keith Stanfield) and arrival of Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) begin to peel back the fragile facade Grace constructed to deal with her own abuse.
Marcus is close to turning 18, which means he must leave the home. His anxiety about living on his own results in self-destructive and violent behavior. The validity of his fear is encapsulated in an emotionally draining rap song he shares with Mason. Jayden on the other hand is a young 15-year-old who has a tendency toward violent behavior and cutting. Her issues with her father are heart-breakingly similar to Grace’s experience, which further hastens Grace’s unraveling.
Grace is also grappling with personal issues. She’s pregnant — for the second time – and trying to overcome her emotional scars to have a reasonable chance at a successful relationship with Mason, who we find out has had to overcome his own obstacles. But, an early morning phone call provides the proverbial straw that breaks Grace’s back – her father is being paroled from prison.
Through it all the film isn’t a preachy piece on society’s failure to provide children with a safe environment from which to grow, or the system’s failure in keeping abused children from their abusive parents. It’s an emotional film that focuses on the mundane and subtle aspects of the life of millions of children of ill-fated circumstances and the toll it takes on the people who try to provide those children some semblance of a “normal” childhood.
This film is a love story; Grace and Mason manage the ebb and flow of a relationship in flux due to her emotional instability and unwillingness to come to terms. It’s also a snapshot of the underprivileged and ignored children who bounce from foster home to foster home with mixed results – a stop gap but never a solution.
Mason tells a story to Nate (Rami Malek) on Nate’s first day as a staff member that sort of sums up the film. To make a hilarious story short, Mason follows a physically imposing foster kid off the property in an attempt to get him to come back; the staff are not allowed to touch them once they leave the premises. The kid tells Mason that if Mason gets off with him at the next bus stop, the kid will beat him. Unfortunately for Mason, the previous evening’s tacos aren’t sitting well in his stomach and he has no choice but to find a restroom. The kid turns around about to stomp the life out of Mason, but before he can Mason defecates all over himself. The kid decides to come back after all if for no other reason than to tell everyone of the incident – it’s quite hilarious.
Nate asks Mason toward the end of the movie whatever happened to the kid, to which Mason replies, and I paraphrase, “he left a few days later and they found his body in a ditch.” The somberness left me drained but appreciative of a Monday evening well spent. This film is a must see.
This film is rated R for language and brief sexuality.