With Manchester by the Sea coming out this weekend, I would like to take the time to discuss one of the most emotionally gripping films of this decade. Short Term 12 came out in 2013 and really does something new for cinema, portraying a facility for troubled teenagers in the most genuine way possible. Not only does it offer an amazing look into the lives of these teenagers, but it also parallels the story of this facility’s supervisor to the story of these kids, leading to some truly affecting revelations that contribute to the emotional resonance of this film.
As I stated before, Short Term 12 is a revelatory emotional journey. Portraying the lives of troubled teens in a bona fide manner, Daniel Destin Cretton allows you to empathize with them and also understand these kids, helping you understand that at the core of all these troubles, these people are just good kids and despite the fact that they’ve lived through a shit-storm that’ll probably haunt them for the rest of their lives. Cretton also conveys that all these kids want is love and the tortured pasts they’ve endured damages their capability to feel and understand love. While Cretton presents us with many kids at this facility, he chooses to focus on two very specific ones: Marcus and Jayden. While both are magnificently constructed characters portrayed by two wonderful and veritable teenagers, Jayden serves as a character that has close emotional ties to Grace’s (Larson) past, meanwhile Marcus is more withdrawn from our the actual protagonist’s journey and is the actual character through which we get to peer into the minds of the children at this facility. I already praised Keith Stanfield for his work on Donald Glover’s Atlanta, but here he delivers his best performance to date, evoking sorrow with every gaze he gives and a sense of irreparable happiness to young for a 17 year old to know, Stanfield is stunning in this role, giving a career performance at such a young-age. There’s a scene in this film where John Gallagher Jr. tries to speak to Marcus and asks him to rap and he explodes with this fury wrestling inside him that transmits everything we need to know about Marcus. Not only is this a magnificent moment where Stanfield showcases the emotional range he can tackle as an actor, but its also a great study in how to do exposition properly, something Cretton does once later on with the Jayden’s story. Speaking of Jayden, she’s also hits out of the park with this role, reaching levels of emotional maturity way beyond her years that she captures with perfection. As for the rest of the kids, Cretton did something amazing in casting kids who had practically zero acting experience previous, something that allows him to capture the raw nature of what a child is.
But then, aside from the story unweaving among the kids at the facility, you’ve got the story unfolding among the adults. I have to say as I watched this film yesterday, this film’s cast is great. Starring Rami Malek, John Gallagher Jr. and Brie Larson, this film is full to the brim with talent. Cretton chooses to follow the story of Grace played by Brie Larson, the facility’s supervisor who has a troubled past of her own and as the film progresses, you Cretton begins to reveal certain things that help you piece her story together in a very intelligent way, revealing the entirety of her decision to work at Short Term 12 in the first place. John Gallagher Jr. seems to be supporting films with strong female characters in a very interesting way by that of choosing to play the supporting role to these wonderful women. He did that earlier this year in 10 Cloverfield Lane and he did back in 2013, he always does a fantastic job at it he’s really complements the character of Grace in this film especially. As for Rami Malek, he’s mostly used for comic relief since he’s the new guy being exposed to the nature of Short Term 12.
Now that I’ve extensively covered just how great the acting is in this film, I must move on to praise Cretton’s work as writer director. As I said earlier, this man does a great job in pacing out his story, subtly leading up to character revelations that help you understand why this character is this way and having them pay off in a rewarding manner. He invests the necessary time and scenes needed so each character is fleshed out. Visually, this film isn’t anything grand but it flows with the independant nature of the film. Cretton also did a magnificent job writing this, painstakingly researching and finding the best ways to convey emotional distraught without the film feeling like a fluff-piece. Daniel Destin Cretton does phenomenal job as writer/director and based on this will probably hit out of the park with his upcoming film, The Glass Castle.
Short Term 12 is a riveting emotionally gripping film that intelligently plays out its story until it reaches one of the most beautiful finales I’ve seen in a while. The acting is fantastic all around the board, the directing is phenomenal from Cretton’s part, and the writing is equally as great. Cretton also does something wonderful by portraying these troubled teens in a most genuine sense, allowing anyone to be able to relate to them. Short Term 12 is one of the great films of the 2010’s, holding breakout performances from Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12 is a showcase of excellent directing, acting, exposition, writing, and transmitting an emotional wave to the audience in a way that befits the story and never feels cheap, elevating the significance of this small film to that of a giant.