Review: Short Term 12

Siobhan Flesher 6 November 2013

Set in a children’s care home, Short Term 12 is the story of the daily life of its inhabitants and workers over about a week. We follow Grace (Brie Larson), the twentysomething supervisor, and particularly her relationship with a troubled new arrival, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever).

While this initial set up could be a honey trap for clichéd, lazy screen writing (as Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian interpreted it), this is in fact an original and powerful production that deserves every one of its numerous awards and commendations. Thanks largely to a remarkably sincere performance from Larson and the unpretentious efforts of writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton, Short Term 12 is able in 97 short minutes to take its viewers on a rollercoaster-ride of moments, achieving intimacy and passion without feeling voyeuristic or laboured. Further emotional ballast is provided by the soundtrack, a broad mix of original work led by Joel P West, which provides a surprisingly unique and personal feel throughout.

One of the most remarkable achievements of Short Term 12 is the authentic portrayal of the issues, and normalities, of institutionalised living for teenagers. One resident struggles with the prospect of facing the real world as he approaches his eighteenth birthday, while the frontline carers grapple with the limited authority granted to them. The politics of the home are fascinating, but never pull focus from the human relationships that are the film’s beating heart and soul.

Short Term 12 is a remarkably moving drama, which allows its nuances to speak for themselves. Whatever you do, make sure you take a tissue, as it is impossible not to become almost uncomfortably emotionally invested in this skilful portrayal of a difficult subject.