“Short Term 12”
“Short Term 12” is one of those
indie films that can pack an emotional wallop just because it is so
small-scale. The characters seem oh so
real, and oh so human and oh so vulnerable.
Grace (Brie Larson) is a counselor in a
group home for foster kids. They’re
teenagers, so they’ve already known plenty of disappointment in their lives.
Nobody really wants to be there, but this is where you go when you have
no place left to go.
Her co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher,
Jr.), also happens to be her lover. Except
they try to keep it quiet about their living together off campus.
Non-fraternization, and all that. But
everyone lives so close to each other that there aren’t really any secrets.
That’s part of what’s so poignant: the
lack of privacy ironically provides a sense of intimacy that everybody craves,
but nobody wants to admit they need.
The story actually begins with the
introduction of a new staff member, and yes, that always changes the delicate
dynamics, in such a small group, but it’s not really about the newbie on
staff. It’s about the kids.
One of them is approaching the end of his time there, because he’s
turning 18, and he’s terrified of being thrown out there on his own, despite
his apparent chafing at all the rules. There’s
the girl whose Dad is supposed to come pick her up one weekend, and doesn’t,
and they all suffer the heartache together.
There’s the scared pubescent boy who
can’t seem to let go of the dolls which his sister used to have, back when
he had a sister. Sometimes he just runs
out into the yard screaming, apparently trying to run away, but secretly
hoping they’ll catch him, because he so desperately needs the close
Grace, it turns out, is a wonderful
counselor: kind, sympathetic, patient,
resourceful, and obviously caring. Any
foster home like this would be lucky to have her on staff.
But she has her own issues, too, about belonging and identify and
transparency, and she can’t help but bring those issues with her, and they
can’t help but affect how she interacts with both the clients and the staff.
Yes, there’s some rough language.
Even though there is punishment for “swearing” (and for fighting),
would you really expect everyone to talk to each other like at church choir
practice? Yes, there are times when
they are actually having fun together, but mostly, it’s a lot of acting out,
and then dealing with the fallout and the consequences from the acting out.
In a way, it’s like persistent drama, and you begin to suspect that
the staff might get a little bored if they didn’t have their daily dose of
communal life “in extremis.”
Brie Larson is positively luminous in
this harrowing role, in one of those performances where you can’t take your
eyes off her, even though she is not a great beauty, or even particularly
funny. She’s so empathetic that
she’ll bring tears to your eyes just by the way she can give so much of
herself, and yet, when it comes to her personal relationships, that’s
exactly what she can’t do. And it’s
that kind of personality tangle that makes “Short Term 12” such a rarity:
a high-impact, small-scoped, slow-paced, grab-your-gut arresting gem of
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister,
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church