Short Term 12, for the most part, is an emotionally devastating drama that sensitively observes the lives of the residents and staff at a foster-care facility for at-risk kids. With an unsentimental eye, the director, Destin Cretton, creates scene after scene of believable situations that leave an indelible mark. Take, for example, the scene in which Jayden, the newest kid at the facility, throws the most harrowing of tantrums after her father doesn’t show up to take her home for the weekend, or the sequence in which she reads a fable she wrote about an octopus and a shark to her care worker Grace, revealing her abusive upbringing through an heartbreaking allegory.
The trouble is that as memorable as scenes like the ones I’ve described are, Cretton’s film is too often formulaic and predictable to be fully convincing. The rightfully lauded scenes of unsentimental observation are therefore occasionally undermined by the conventionality of the narrative, allowing for some sentimentality to creep in and overwhelm parts of the story. This is most apparent in the paralleling of Jayden’s traumatic story with the childhood of Grace, the films main protagonist. By creating similarities between the two characters’ upbringings, Jayden’s story becomes marginalised and is seen more as a contrivance to further Grace’s story arc.
The film is bookended by scenes in which Grace and her co-workers are sitting outside their titular workplace sharing informative anecdotes that neatly wrap up the story. This, coupled with the recurring motif of Grace arriving at work each morning driving her bicycle into the same static shot of the foster-care facility, leaves us with the notion that the cycle of care they provide is continuous and that for institutes like Short Term 12 there will always be at-risk kids in need of guidance. This is a rather poignant and fitting note for the film to end on. Though the film often frustrates, it is hard not to be moved by its story.
DVD/BD Release Date:
10th March 2014 (UK)
Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr.
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