Short Term 12 is named after the location it's set. Short Term 12
is the name of the quasi-foster care facility where children are
temporarily housed. The movie focuses on the quasi-adults who work there
and whose job it is to make sure the children don't run away and don't
hurt themselves. The manager of the facility is Grace, played by Brie
Larson, whose personal issues are exposed and may be the cause of her
working there. The personal issues of the children aren't all that
explored, except for one and only because it relates to Grace's issues.
All the other children are peripheral or caricatures whose back stories
aren't brought to the forefront. We get that they all probably come from
abusive homes, but we don't all together know their hows or whys.
Several children are introduced, two teens in particular. One is a white girl named Jayden, played by Kaitlyn Dever (Justified and Last Man Standing), and the other is a black guy named Marcus, played by Keith Stanfield. As the movie goes along, it becomes clear that Jayden's back story is more important than Marcus' back story. The only reason is because Grace is the protagonist and because Grace is herself a white girl, so obviously theirs is the only connection that can be made. Grace reveals that her back story is practically the same as Jayden. We get hints of Marcus' back story, but it would have been more impacted and more of a message if Grace made that deeper connection with Marcus rather than Jayden.
It wouldn't have been about her saving him because people complain about stories where white people save black people, but this movie is not about saving these children from their abusive pasts. If anything, a child has to save Grace. No, this movie is just about Grace having to deal with the issues from her past still haunting her in her present. This film personally touches me because Grace expresses a sentiment about herself and her situation that I've expressed. Essentially, she doesn't want to be pregnant and have children herself.
Larson's performance is fantastic. You don't know what it is, but you feel her past, her troubled past and how it continues to resonate in her current personal life. Grace is currently dating a co-worker at Short Term 12 named Mason, played by John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom and Pieces of April). Her relationship with him is affected due to her past and Larson perfectly conveys that. Gallagher's performance is great too as a man who handles things or has an outlook that is different because he's a guy who came out of the foster care system but more positively. The explanation for why a white guy speaks Spanish goes to that.
This film just has some amazing and heartbreaking moments. The story of the Octopus and the Shark that Grace hears is an easy emotional punch because it's about a young girl talking about her molestation. The rap song that Mason hears is another easy emotional punch about it's about a young boy talking about his abuse.
But, it's not all depressing, the movie does have its comedic moments. The entry into this movie, which throws the audience in the middle of this facility and all of its craziness, is through a character named Nate, played by Rami Malek (The War at Home and The Pacific). Nate is a new employee of Short Term 12. Nate has to learn all the rules and quirks of the place, and he stumbles and makes a number of mistakes that are quite comical and even hilarious.
That's why this film is one of the best of the year because it gets at something so personal and so profound that it can't help but resonate to one's soul.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and brief sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.