Short Term 12

August 26th, 2013


Short Term 12

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A 20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.

Release Year: 2013

Rating: 7.9/10 (498 voted)

Director: Destin Cretton

A 20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.


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Winner of the Audience Award at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival in the narrative feature category. See more »

User Review


Rating: 5/10

Destin Cretton's script about a foster care treatment facility was a 2010 Nichol Fellowship winner. It's an earnest, feel-good effort which mainly focuses on its protagonist, Grace (Brie Larson), a 20 something counselor at the facility. She's in charge of a group of dysfunctional teenagers, who exhibit varying degrees of self-destructive behavior.

Grace herself is a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her father, who we soon learn will be released from a correctional facility after serving time due to Grace's testimony against him. Grace is involved in a relationship with another co-worker counselor, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who was raised by warm, loving foster parents, in contrast to Grace's damaged upbringing. Part of the plot involves Grace's internal arc, as she struggles whether to have an abortion, following an unexpected pregnancy. You can probably guess what she ultimately decides to do about having the baby.

The bulk of 'Short Term 12' concerns Grace and Mason's struggle to help the kids in their charge. The staff eschews a punitive approach when dealing with the kids and are also bound by state laws that prohibit them from bringing them back to the facility, if they leave the grounds. Hence, there are a number of dramatic scenes where the counselors engage in mad dashes to try and prevent one particularly dysfunctional kid from exiting the perimeter.

Probably the greatest strength of the film is the depiction of the meltdown of two particularly distressed teenagers: Marcus, an aspiring rap artist and Jayden, a teenage girl, who Grace suspects is being physically and sexually abused by her father. There are dark moments for both of the teenagers: Marcus attempts suicide and Jayden is taken home by her father on a weekend pass, where presumably she's being abused. Naturally, there is the obligatory happy-ending for both of them: Marcus eventually gets himself together and hooks up with a former beauty who attended the facility (this story happens off-screen and is related to us by Mason at film's end); and Jayden is saved after Grace convinces her to testify to social service agency officials about the abuse, at the hands of her father.

'Short Term 12' suffers most from the lack of an identifiable antagonist. We never do get to meet either Grace of Jayden's father, who are depicted as uncaring monsters. By fleshing either one of them out (or both), and linking them organically to the plot, Mr. Cretton's narrative, could have been way more dramatic and exciting. Instead, Cretton loses sight of creating more complex characters by getting too emotionally involved in his subject matter. Probably the weakest scene is when Grace links her own crisis of the impending release of her father from prison to Jayden's, breaking into her father's home, and almost ending up bashing him over the head with a baseball bat. Instead, Grace and Jayden take turns bashing in the window of the deep asleep father's car. Yes, we understand that Cretton doesn't like abusers, but he never introduces any of them to us as real human beings.

Finally, it's nice to know that the caring efforts of Grace and Mason pay off in the end, but how realistic is that? Often what happens is that dysfunctional kids, those who have been oppressed by abusive parents, become abusers themselves. Hence, the old dictum of the oppressed becoming the oppressors, seems to be missing here. How about a kid who Grace and Mason can't save, and is just plain evil? It's another opportunity missed to introduce a credible antagonist.

As a first feature effort, Destin Cretton has created a fairly credible look at what goes on in some foster care treatment facilities today. With a little more seasoning, Mr. Cretton may break into the film business, as a full-time director. He certainly knows how to direct his actors and work with a cinematographer. Cretton needs to be a little less sentimental and work at developing a full-fledged antagonist, when he develops his sophomore effort.


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