Rating: Very Severe
Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Director: Destin Cretton
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaityln Denver, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield
Spoiler alert in effect.
After watching Room and being blown away by Brie Larson’s profound performance, I quickly realised I had to watch Short Term 12. Everyone seemed to be raving about her performance here, which she had done prior to Room and which should have been her true breakout role. Unfortunately, it was snubbed by the Academy Awards that year, and so it slipped under my radar. But I am so so so grateful that I know about it now because OMG, it’s just perfection. Seriously, every part of this film is perfection! I cannot stop gushing over it. The script is beautiful, the acting is spot on, even the score is perfect.
The story itself is built on a relatively simple premise, but the messages and issues it covers are powerful, insightful and poignant. It tells the story of a young woman, Grace, played by Brie, who works in a short-term foster care facility for children who have had troubled childhoods or experienced abuse. It’s not an easy job, and while she seems capable of looking after the welfare of the children under her and the other staff’s care, we see that she has her own demons to contend with. While she encourages the children to express and share their feelings, she herself seems unable to do it, despite the constant encouragement from her boyfriend Mason, played by John Gallagher Jr. The films explores the struggles of these foster care kids, and in parallel, the struggles of the carers and how their own lives intertwine with the children they look after. The screenplay is beautifully written, with really touching confessional scenes that are original and honest. They’re really a highlight of the film and shows the true potential of the writer and director, Destin Cretton.
What I really enjoyed about this film was how we got to know each character intimately. When you first see each person, you see what they choose to represent themselves as. With Jayden, on the surface she tried to appear stand-offish and indifferent. With Marcus, he acts as if he is too cool for anything childish. But over the film, through the help of the staff there, we slowly understand more of their backstory and what they’re really feeling. And while this film is set in a very specific context and place, I think the success of this film stems from the universality of the emotions it conveys, whether that be fear, anger, anxiety, sadness or joy. Everyone can relate to at least one character and what they are feeling, even if the situation is different. It makes you look inside of yourself and examine your own emotions, how they arise and how to address it. Talking about how you feel, expressing any fear or anxiety you have, often makes the burden lighter, even if nothing has really changed. Keeping it all to yourself in your mind can make you crazy eventually, if you don’t have an outlet to let it out and to organise your thoughts. Some people do this through songwriting, such as Marcus, or through writing stories, such as with Jayden. Others may eventually seek therapy or look to their loved ones for support. Whatever the method, each person is better off once they are able to get it off their chest and really examine the cause of it. It’s definitely not an easy task, because it’s often painful and requires a lot of strength to really understand your feelings. It’s a thousand times easier to just shove it away somewhere and drown it out with other things. But it’s just like sweeping dust under the rug. It’s at best a temporary fix, and at worst something that could cause long-lasting damage that could be hard to reverse. I think that’s why I felt such a connection with the story and characters here, because I often feel the same way, being overpowered by worry. By sharing my feelings and talking to those I trust, I feel better, just like the characters in this film do. It’s a great and timely reminder for everyone to not be ashamed for feeling sad or angry or worried, and to not bottle it up inside of you. Everyone has experienced these at some point in their lives, you’re not the only one. Expressing your feelings won’t make you less of a person. In fact, it shows you care enough about yourself and those around you, because you’re willing to take a step in the right direction. That is why I love this film so much and why I recommend others to watch it too. It shows how films can make a real difference in someone’s life for the better. There’s plenty of people who view movies as purely for entertainment and can’t see the social and personal benefits it gives to people. Films are more than just entertainment. They are powerful devices to convey important messages, give timely reminders, provide a place of solace and reflection, and of course, make a tangible difference. Don’t underestimate the value inherent in films.
Sorry for the rambling. I can’t seem to stop once I start. Moving onto some other parts of the film, my favourite scenes in the film include the rap that Marcus performed for Mason, and the octopus story Jayden told Grace.
I thought the lyrics to the rap was absolute genius. Not only catchy, but told such a heartbreaking story in such a simple way. I learnt that the rap itself was a collaboration between Destin and Keith (the guy who plays Marcus). Destin wrote the initial version, and Keith came in and rewrote parts of it. It’s part of the official soundtrack so go check it out if you haven’t already. The score is worth listening to.
With the octopus story, it’s seriously the saddest and most heartbreaking story I’ve ever heard! And the way it’s delivered by Kaityln, who plays Jayden, just intensifies the moment. She does a brilliant job of not overacting while still conveying the raw emotions. The little pictures she drew of the octopus make it even more devastating. It’s a creative and interesting way to convey the abuse she suffers from her father. She can’t bring herself to say it outright, so she does it through her writing. It’s even sadder to think that all she really wanted was a friend, some companionship and support from a parent figure. Thankfully, she had Grace to talk to, because at least Grace can understand how she must feel, as she was abused by her father too.
Another part I found really intriguing was Mason’s backstory. I remember Mason speaking Spanish early on in the film, and I was so perplexed as to why he did. He doesn’t look Spanish or Mexican at all. Of course it is revealed later, about half-way through the film, that he is in fact a foster child himself, growing up with foster parents who can speak Spanish. This was such a lovely touch to the story and gave another layer of depth to the characters. I mean, this could be why Mason was attracted to work at a foster care facility in the first place.
The acting definitely shifted the film up a gear. Brie is of course outstanding in the lead role, displaying such sincerity and honesty in her portrayal of Grace. There is not one moment where you think she’s overplaying her part, despite the sensitive and delicate issues she deals with. It’s easy to exaggerate or over-dramatise the emotions she goes through, especially having gone through abuse and being pregnant. But she skillfully restrains her performance where necessary, which I find more powerful than just shouting or yelling. John also does a magnificent job playing Mason. He’s such a nice, kind-hearted guy who truly cares about others, which might come from the love he received from his foster parents and family. The love he has for Grace is also boundless, something every girl dreams of receiving. He’s willing to support and encourage Grace through many obstacles she faces, and John does a great job in portraying that love and endearing quality. Also, it was a surprise to see Rami Malek in this movie! I’ve never checked out his back catalogue, but he plays this character really well. It’s hard to imagine him outside of playing Elliot in Mr Robot, but his natural charm works well here. Gave me a reminder to go watch Season 2 of Mr Robot!
I have to say, all the teenage actors were exceptionally good too. They definitely held their own. Each one of them played their characters so honestly that it’s weird to see them in real life and see how they really are. Jayden, Marcus, Luis and Sammy are the main kids the film focuses on, and each have their own distinct personalities. I think the casting was spot on and you can be sure that each of these actors will have bright futures ahead for them.
To finish off, here’s an interesting tidbit from the filming process which you may not have heard about. It’s to do with the scene where Grace smashes the car windshield belonging to Jayden’s father.What happened was the car used in that scene was hired by production from a stunt car place and basically anything destroyed (i.e. windshields) would be replaced at cost by the producers. They got a stunt person to show Brie how to step onto the bonnet of the car so as not to damage it and how to use the bat to smash the window. She was told to hit it 3 times and then stop. This was all explained in a rush however because they had to shoot the scene before midnight as they were filming in a residential area. However, in the actual scene, we can see that Brie just kept hitting it, over and over, until windshield had a gaping hole. The way she explained it, she was letting out all the pent-up energy and frustration that had built up while playing this dark character, so that translated into her performance. So when you watch that scene, keep that in the back of your mind haha.
Overall, I can vouch that the critic’s ratings are fully justifiable. 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. Now that’s universal acclaim alright. The film also won the Grand Jury and Audience awards at the SXSW film festival where the film premiered. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t make time to go watch this.
1. Do you think this should have been nominated at the Oscars?
2. Which character did you relate to the most?
3. Do you make a conscious effort to watch independent films, or do so only if you hear by word-of-mouth?