At work, the pair strive to help Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an intense and wounded resident on the cusp of adulthood, but it’s the new girl Jaden (Kaitlyn Dever) and her issues which open old wounds for Grace. Jaden, a self-harmer, has been in and out of various group homes due to her volatile behaviour and Grace is determined to ensure the girl is kept out of harm’s way, even if it’s to the detrimental to her already fragile relationship with Mason and her position at the home where she works. Short Term 12 has an easy charm and thoughtfulness which brings to mind the nuanced, quietly engaging indie features which flourished in the nineties. Throughout, Cretton adopts a vérité style which chimes near-perfectly with the material at hand.
Cretton’s two leading lights demonstrate great chemistry when together on screen, the strain their relationship is under is heavily felt, leading to some awkward and all-too-real moments. There’s a tender fragility to Larson underneath Grace’s tough exterior, as her own demons have spurred her on to protect others in need. Having lent her talents as the kooky bit-part player in a number of indie and mainstream American comedies (see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and 21 Jump Street), she’s something of a revelation here, and the film undoubtedly marks her out as a major talent to keep an eye upon in the years to come.
Short Term 12 simply wouldn’t work, however, if the ensemble wasn’t up to the standard of Gallagher Jr and Larson, with Cretton managing to extract some fine turns from his kids – particularly Stanfield. When his character delivers a blunt and angry rap he’s composed, on paper what may sound a little clichéd brims with a searing honesty and gripping rawness. It’s just one of the many moments throughout which strive for an honesty without ever tipping over into easy sentimentality. Despite its subject matter, Short Term 12 is the type of film which leaves you feeling upbeat and hopeful as the end credits roll.
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