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Short Term 12

Short Term 12

Even in a summer marked by notable indie releases, Short Term 12 stands out; in fact, it’s
one of the best films of the year. No wonder it’s accumulated so many awards, from
a jury prize at Sundance to the audience award at South by Southwest and the
L.A. Film Festival. Writer-director Destin Cretton expanded it from a short he
made in 2008, but there is no sense of padding or marking time here: he grabs
us in the film’s opening seconds and never lets go.

Cretton wisely followed the adage of writing about what you
know for this screenplay, which earned him the prestigious Nicholl
Screenwriting Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Having
worked in the foster-care system, he brings complete credibility to his portrayal
of a facility where sincere young people like the ones played by Brie Larson
and John Gallagher, Jr. look after adolescents at risk—the kind of kids who
might try anything if you turn your back for a minute. As they warn a newcomer
to the ranks of counselors, it’s unwise to try to be their friend until they
know you’re primarily their guardian. But the counselors have problems of their
own to work through, which are sometimes at odds with their challenges on the
job.

In portraying a wide range of attitudes and experiences
Cretton never strikes a false note; if anything, you could almost be fooled
into believing this is a fly-on-the-wall documentary. I don’t know how a
filmmaker (let alone a young one) achieves this kind of naturalism and
intimacy, but it’s astonishing to behold. (I felt the same way about The Spectacular Now, which also features
Larson in a secondary role.)

Short Term 12 is a
remarkable film; don’t let its serious subject matter or modest scale deter you
from seeing it. If you do, you’ll be missing one of the shining lights of the
movie-going year.

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