Short Term 12 Is Still A Masterpiece

Brie Larson and LaKeith Stanfield in Short Term 12. Courtesy of Cinedigm.

Short Term 12 remains one of the best films of 2013 and it was wrongfully snubbed of Oscar nominations, especially Brie Larson’s performance.

I was late to watching Short Term 12 because the indie film was too small to open in my hometown. Despite winning major audience and jury awards at SXSW in 2013, it didn’t do much business at the box office. The film opened with a platform release, expanding to 75 theaters at its widest. Audiences such as myself had to wait patiently for the home video release. It wasn’t until January 2014 before I could finally watch the film and it was worth the wait!

Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton draws on his own experience in expanding his Sundance-winning short film into a feature film as the filmmaker takes audiences into the world of neglected youths. The biggest change from the short film is switching the gender of the lead from male to female. In doing so, Denim became Grace and this enabled Brie Larson to receive well-deserved acclaim for her performance. It is a very revealing drama to say the least. Cretton models Nate (Rami Malek), the new guy on staff, after himself.

Grace Howard (Larson) is the supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teens. She’s dedicated to her job and is also in a relationship with co-worker Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.). The two of them are more focused on Marcus (LaKeith Stanfield) as he is struggling with leaving the facility. Meanwhile, Nate is the new guy and Grace is teaching him the ropes and how they are neither parent nor therapist to the teens.

It is not long before Jayden Cole (Dever), who has a history of harming herself, arrives to live at the home. Grace struggles with her own past but is able to open up with Jayden more so than anyone else. Anyway, Jayden’s past plays a role in her lashing out at staff and running away on her birthday. Grace later takes a trip to the clinic, where she learns that she’s pregnant. Her plan is to have an abortion and doesn’t even bother letting Mason know the news. For one reason or another, Grace struggles to open up with her own boyfriend about what’s bothering her.

Mason later proposes to Grace. Not long thereafter, just about anything that can go wrong does go wrong. It’s a lot of responsibility for Grace, who turns to her own boss, Jack (Frantz Turner),  after Jayden is sent back home. Perhaps it’s because of everything going on but Grace finally breaks down at the hospital and opens up to Mason about wanting an abortion. Meanwhile, Grace later breaks into Jayden’s home, only to learn that the two of them have more in common. There’s no doubting that Grace crosses an ethical line but she wants to show Jayden that they’re alike in that way. I give Cretton a lot of credit for saving Grace’s secret for this late in the film. It adds a complexity to Larson’s character while also adding insight into what she sees in Jayden and why.

It’s hard to believe that the original cut ran some two hours and change. Editor Nat Sanders deserves a trophy or something for cutting the film down to under 100 hours. It’s still a serious subject matter but the final cut manages to lighten up the mood.

Looking back on things now, the film contains something of stacked cast. At the time though, the film gave Brie Larson a breakout leading role. In a perfect world, there would have been more recognition for Larson during awards season, let alone the rest of the film. There are performances where you know it’s worthy of an Oscar nomination and this is exactly what we see in Larson’s portrayal of Grace Howard. The Critics Choice Awards were the only major awards show to get it right in nominating Larson for her performance.

Both Larson and Malek would go onto win Oscars for their work in other films. LaKeith Stanfield would join them in later earning an Oscar nomination. Awards talk notwithstanding, this was the film where I knew that Kaitlyn Dever had an acting range beyond anything that she displayed in Last Man Standing. It’s a range that we would see her returning to years later in an Unbelievable and Dopesick.

Ten years after its theatrical release, Short Term 12 remains nothing short of a masterpiece.

CAST: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, LaKeith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez, Melora Walters, Stephanie Beatriz, Lydia Du Veaux, Alex Calloway, Frantz Turner, Diana-Maria Riva

Cinedigm released Short Term 12 in theaters on August 23, 2013. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.