Movie review: Short Term 12

In this day and age of tear-jerking melodramatic movies, the vast quantities of Haagen-Dasz buckets consumed keep ice-cream investors happy. The current trend of post-apocalyptic, dystopian, teenage romance, exorcism epics in film is becoming a bit repetitive, as Hollywood is running out of good-looking, unknown actors. Fortunately, there are movies like Short Term 12. Unfortunately, they’re a piece of hay in the needlestack.

Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) plays Grace, a quiet, funny, and charismatic woman who runs a facility for children with special needs called Short Term 12. As Grace states in the film’s trailer, “Remember, you are not their parent, you are not their therapist. You are here to create a safe environment and that’s it.” We can begin to see the seriousness of the environment she works in, and potential dangers that might be in her future.

Enter Mason—Grace’s co-worker and boyfriend—played by John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom). Together, the two take care of the kids in the facility, developing bonds and family-like relationships with each of them. A sweet story if I do say so myself. This, however, all changes when a new character is introduced in the mix: Jayden, a.k.a. the game changer. Jayden, who comes from an implied abusive background, has a mysterious emotional impact on Grace, suggesting there is much about her past that the movie has not yet divulged to us. Revelations are made, the plot thickens, and ice cream is consumed.

“But Manny, why is this movie worth my time?” Well, for the ice cream company, of course. This movie is one of the most heartwarming and simultaneously heartbreaking movies I have ever seen. Director Destin Cretton surprises all, as his first major motion picture manages to score a 99% on the Tomatometer (a.k.a., the word of God). Although the movie itself is a bit underground, it was definitely on my top ten movies of 2013 list.

This movie is very well-written, focusing on the dynamics between all characters while avoiding superficiality. The character arcs feel complete as seen through each person’s understanding of how and why they are a certain way. The movie also shows some of the best performances I have ever seen, as actions and emotions seem entirely real.

But there is one key quality from this movie that makes it stand out from the rest of the drama pool: discomfort. There is a sense of discomfort that chews at the back of your neck throughout, executed through the writing and the performances of the actors, forcing us to see that all is not as it seems. This discomfort makes you feel on edge throughout the movie, but it makes the nicer, warmer parts feel all the more rewarding. All in all, the movie is just fun to watch, never really letting you take the occasional glimpse at the clock. This is the kind of movie that makes you feel sad when it’s over. But it’s a good sad.