The terms “Hipster film” and “Melodrama” are some that are thrown around almost too often these days; both of which could be used to sadly categorize a film like Short Term 12. In my opinion, a melodrama is a work in which performances and direction are far more exaggerated than the subject matter calls for, and as a result, comes off as inorganic. Destin Cretton’s film doesn’t fall under that umbrella. Short Term 12 doesn’t simply pull heart strings to get an emotional response. It explores the amount of courage, patience and unrestrained empathy that is needed to let someone in after a life of abuse.
The film centers around Grace (Brie Larson), a strong-willed woman with an unrelenting vocation for helping the children she works with at a home for at-risk-teens. Her day to day is rather procedural (filled with level drops for cussing and random room checks) until a girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is brought in. Jayden is dropped in the group home as a favor to her father and Grace soon realizes the distinct similarities between them. As Grace uncovers the truth behind Jayden’s home life, her own past is brought to the forefront, testing her relationships outside of the home.
Short Term 12 is also just as much a love story as it is an unsettling drama. Grace’s boyfriend and co-worker at the facility, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), is hellbent on getting Grace to allow him inside her head. He believes she is the weirdest, most beautiful person he has ever met in his entire life, and Brie Larson’s performance won’t have you feeling any other way. In what is undoubtedly Larson’s most challenging and rewarding role yet, she delivers exactly what is needed to pull you in.
With other notably resonant performances from Keith Stanfield and the rest of this vibrant cast, Short Term 12 is one of the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching films of 2013. It is now available for instant stream on Netflix.
Review by Ryan Kramer.