Written & Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
— Jim Valvano
The above is a quote from one of my favorite speeches; Jim Valvano riddled with cancer, delivered an inspiring and completely moving speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards, capturing some of the most essential emotions all wrapped into one. Short Term 12, in many ways, captures the spirit and courage of Valvano’s sentiment. He calls a full day one in which you laugh, you think, and you cry. What Destin Daniel Cretton accomplishes with his film is just that, a full day, a full experience. There are moments of light humor which made me laugh; moments of such depth, that I found myself lost in thought; and moments of heartbreaking pain, joyous wonder, both of which had my emotions moved to tears.
At Short Term 12, a group of twenty-something’s monitor and take care of “under-privileged” children from broken homes and abusive situations. Their job is to be friends in a time of need for these troubled teens. Grace (Brie Larson) is a wonderful guide in these children’s lives, but she too has memories and issues with which she must deal, must fight to overcome. Her long time boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr), also works at the home, and shows Grace and the children great affection and companionship. Their relationship, and Grace’s composure, becomes strained when a young girl (Kaitlyn Dever) comes to the home. As Grace spends time with Jayden, the young girl, she is reminded all too much of her own, very personal troubles when she was that age.
What Cretton delivers is nothing short of exhausting, physically and emotionally. By the end of the film, I was left in my seat, nearly gasping for air, struggling to catch my breath after an hour and a half emotional roller coaster that not only hits on every emotion in the book, but nails each and every one of them, mixed together with incredible care. Every emotion it explored, all that it took me through, found its way to my heart, good or bad, and stayed there long enough to affect my very constitution, my outlook. A more deeply affecting film I have not seen this year, or perhaps even in some time. The most staggering achievement of the film is its authenticity, which starts first and foremost with the marvelously vulnerable performance by Brie Larson, but continues down throughout the whole cast, and the whole film.
The small, close, intimate style of the film suits the understated narrative beautifully. Cretton manages to spend the right amount of time with each character, developing the love, the friendship required for their story to work. The connection made with each character is staggering, and perfect. Cretton delivers us the broken pieces of their lives just when the time is right. And like a good friend, he is there to bring them all together with love and affection, just as we need it.
While Short Term 12 has its sad, depressing moments, and while these characters are scared, broken people, the film is infused with love, friendship, laughter, and more importantly, hope. Cretton strikes the perfect balance between the sad, and the happy, creating a special film that defies typical movie conventions. By transporting us to this place, with these people, we don’t gain the escape from reality we often demand from our movies, we are fully immersed in it, creating a dialogue with our own hard life experiences. The natural delivery, the sincerity of these proceedings warmed my heart and moved me to tears for various reasons. It succeeds in being real, in representing both the joys and sorrows of life. It was a film that reaffirmed my belief in self, and in others. This was just what the soul needed to experience. In friendship there will always be hope and love. Because of this we must never give up on ourselves, but we most definitely must never give up on our friends.
“Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
— Jim Valvano