Monday, July 15, 2024

Pain & Grace: Looking Back On “Short Term 12”

By Josh Williams

There is something truly intimate about Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Short Term 12.” Telling the story of not only teenagers in a crucially painful time in their life but also some adults and the difficulty they have managing work and personal lives. Not only does the film poetically weave its way through all of these characters’ lives, but it truly challenges its audience mentally. Cretton’s sophomore film is a tour de force of heartbreak, grief and physical damage. One aspect of “Short Term 12” that is so impressive is how real the pain feels. The damage that is inflicted onto the characters oozes off of the screen and slips its way into your own veins making you feel every past moment of grief, despair, or regret that you have ever experienced.​

​The film mainly revolves around Grace, played by incomparable Brie Larson. We experience a majority of the film through the eyes of Grace while occasionally taking glimpses into some of the other characters lives. Grace works at a residential facility for troubled kids that is simply referred to as Short Term 12. She looks after the kids, keeps them in line and makes sure that they are not doing anything to possibly harm themselves. As the film slowly progresses we begin to learn that Grace herself, is troubled. She keeps it rather well hidden from the kids that she works with and also her long time boyfriend Mason, played by John Gallagher Jr. Mason works alongside Grace at this facility making their relationship much more complicated than it could be. Despite not being comfortable to share her own emotions with those she is close with, Grace manages to pull out some confessions from some of the kids she oversees. It’s clear that Grace is afraid to share her own emotions but has no problem being the one her kids can turn to, a situation that most people can relate to.

The film is really a visual metaphor for a water balloon. Eventually after so much water is poured into the balloon it will implode. “Short Term 12” tells the story of several different characters that come from completely different backgrounds and how the events in their life becomes too much for them to handle. The first character that we witness this experience from is the character Marcus, played by Keith Stanfield. “Short Term 12” is the first feature film that Stanfield acted in and his career has since skyrocketed getting roles in “Selma” and “Straight Outta Compton.” He gives a heart wrenching performance as the troubled teenager afraid to face the real world. He’s been in this facility for so long that he is nervous for what is on the other side of this fence. Again, another situation most can relate to. Marcus has quite the anger bottled inside of him from the moment we are first introduced to him. Whether it be his fear of leaving or his lack of having a mother, Marcus is broken on a much deeper level than some of the other kids.

We witness Marcus’ implosion when he violently lashes out against another kid. But this is not the moment where we as an audience are meant to understand or connect with Marcus. No. Instead, Cretton takes us into a much more personal moment. After Marcus is sent to his room, Mason follows him so that he can hopefully learn more about what is troubling him. Mason then requests to hear some lyrics that Marcus has been writing. Marcus cracks himself in half, pouring out everything that has been troubling him for the past however long into a heart wrenching rap song. If you haven’t seen the film, skip this next portion or go watch the clip on YouTube because me typing the lyrics will not do the scene its justice. This scene is possibly the most heartbreaking and complex within the entirety of the film. Marcus’ song talks about his relationship with his absent mother and while he flows over some devastating lyrics you cannot help but let out tears. The song punches a hole straight through your heart, creating the first of many emotional chasms with which this film will leave you.

​The next troubled teenager that we get to sit with is Jayden, played by Kaitlyn Dever. Jayden is the new kid at Short Term 12 and is really a much younger version of Grace. Jayden is quite literally the spitting image of Grace, which leads to a lot of brilliant visuals throughout the film. We see imitated shots in scenes of just Grace and scenes of just Jayden. The two have experienced similar situations in life from a disgruntled home life to self harm. If theres one thing this film does not do, it does not shy away from the characters and their pain.

Jayden is the rebellious, anarchist type character who deep down actually feels a lot of different things and is too uncomfortable to share. She tries to run away from the facility and she works her away around the rules that Grace and Mason set for her. Jayden is lonely and desperately searching for someone who can relate to what she has been through but when she finds this person in Grace she is hesitant. As Grace and Jayden’s relationship continues evolving we learn that Jayden’s father would abuse her in more ways than one. Grace and Jayden become the heart and soul of the film.

“Short Term 12” is a difficult and heartbreaking viewing that will stand the test of time and go down as one of the greatest independent films ever made. With nuanced performances and a brilliant screenplay, Destin Daniel Cretton’s sophomore film is one for the ages. Proving to be one of the more poetic films within the past decade “Short Term 12” is a film that will leave you in a puddle of your own tears while simultaneously infecting you with joy. We don’t only get to see these characters at their lowest points but also their highest.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s new film, “The Glass Castle” releases this weekend and it stars Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, and Chandler Head. Whether or not he is able to conjure the same amount of emotion from us as he did in “Short Term 12” remains to be seen but if he doesn’t we’ll always have this gem of a film to look back on. If you have not already seen “Short Term 12,” do so right now or you can purchase the film via the link below.


You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @josh_williams09

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