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As entertaining as The World’s End may be, it’s got tough company in the late-August lineup.
Short Term 12 is the best movie you will see this summer. It’s a complete triumph, a passionate reminder of what talented people can accomplish when they dedicate themselves to an ambitious, nuanced, delicate story. See it as soon as you can. Don’t even finish this review. Go buy a ticket now.
Hmm, still here? Okay then. I guess I’ll just have to convince you.
Short Term 12 is set in a foster-care facility for “at-risk” teenagers. What are they at risk of, exactly? Not each other. These aren’t violent kids who want to fight or maim or kill. They aren’t underage criminals who skirted juvie or jail time. The “at-risk” who land at Short Term 12, as the facility is called, are abused children. They’re only risks to themselves. Grace (Brie Larson), her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), and two other twentysomethings are tasked with taking care of them all: Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an intense 17-year-old who fears adulthood; Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a tough, witty girl who cuts herself; Sammy (Alex Calloway), an emotionally stunted boy; and a handful of other minors with nowhere else to go.
While it opens with a series of well-composed scenes that introduce these characters, Short Term 12 truly hits its stride once Grace spends time with Jayden. Writer and director Destin Cretton uses that relationship to raise insightful questions about the literal and symbolic scars of emotional trauma. What does it take for a victim of abuse to lower her armor? How does an adult earn a child’s trust? Can someone function when he doesn’t know what a normal life is like? As Grace asks herself these questions, they seep into her life with Mason — and raise new ones about her difficult past.
Larson is a genuine revelation as Grace, embodying the life of a woman who must rely on silent courage to keep away from her demons. She has armor, too, and Larson does her most brilliant work as it begins to shatter. It’s an outstanding performance made remarkable by Larson’s utter control of character. Watch her face as Grace struggles to express herself. Watch her eyes. They’re aching.
I’ll keep this simple: Short Term 12 deserves to be seen because it’s a daring, devastating movie about abuse. Cretton treats his characters with exceptional respect. He’s telling a valuable story that’s closer to reality than many of us realize. America is littered with Graces and Masons and Marcuses and Jaydens and Sammys. This is their story, and that matters.
See this movie. Please see it.