As a cynical Brit I struggle to enjoy any film that tries too hard to tug at my heartstrings or seems to be shoving an important message down my throat. Films that purport to be realistic dramas but have the damaged individual fixed by the time the credits roll are a huge turn off for me. When Short Term 12 began I was quite concerned that this film about a foster care facility and its young staff would turn out to be precisely this overly earnest type of film.
Thankfully I was wrong.
Short Term 12 features a large ensemble cast of characters encompassing both children in foster care and the supervising staff of their care home. In the film we see a glimpse into the lives of those in care and how the staff deal with the issues that arise and try to give children in troubling situations as stable a childhood as they can before their fate is decided. The heart of the film is Grace (Brie Larson) a staff member at the home who has endless patience for the children under her care but much less patience for the parents who have let them down and the bureaucratic system they are all involved in.
Brie Larson is in that increasingly long list of actors who have been waiting for years for their one big breakout film. Larson has put in solid work in small roles on the big screen (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street to name a couple) and larger roles on the small screen (Raising Dad and United States of Tara) and has been a working actor for most of her life without necessarily getting a role that would act as her calling card. Finally with Short Term 12 I think Brie Larson has found it.
Grace is not just a strong figure in the lives of the kids she cares for but has her own less than perfect past to deal with that is affecting her present day personal life. It is the texture provided to her character that makes Grace a palatable person to have at the centre of such a sincere film and it is a career defining performance from Larson that really sells this character to the audience.
Short Term 12 is an effecting story with many threads as we meet a variety of damaged and lost children each with their own tale to tell. Some are explored in more detail than others and not every thread is tied up neatly by the film’s close. The film feels like a brief visitation to a difficult place where good people are trying their best to help others and there is a real sense of the story continuing long after we have pulled away out of the home that lends everything a layer of authenticity and believability.
Funnier than you might expect with a whole lot of heart Short Term 12 only occasionally contained too much sincerity for my cynicism to handle. Superb performances by Larson and the rest of the cast too numerous to list here the film is held together by understated direction and naturalistic dialogue from Destin Cretton.
Short Term 12 screens at the festival on the 19th October and is in UK cinemas on 1st November 2013.