Looking Back at 2010s Films: Short Term 12 (2013)

9 Oct

Short Term 12 Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…you know, some day, for one of these posts, I WILL get back to talking about films that the Oscars appreciated at least nearly as much as I did.* But for now, here’s one of several 2013 treasures that were completely shut out by Oscar.

Actually…let me list a few! “Mud.” “Fruitvale Station.” “The Spectacular Now.” “Frances Ha.” “The Way, Way Back.”

Sheesh! At least “Before Midnight” was recognized for its screenplay.

(Btw, I love “Gravity” and “Her,” so I’m not an Indie Spirits snob. And at least the Oscars recognized “Nebraska” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”)

Where was I? Oh yeah, “Short Term 12.” I don’t think I was the only one who was shocked and dismayed that Brie Larson wasn’t nominated for her excellent performance in this film.

In the film, she plays Grace, a supervisor for a youth group home, where she looks after troubled teenagers day by day. She can relate to most of these kids as she too comes from a broken home….In fact, she was physically and emotionally abused by her father. So, you could say the reason she works at this facility is to make sure the youths have a better life than what she grew up with.

This proves an interesting contrast when you consider her coworker/boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who came from a loving foster home–you could say he’s there to make sure the kids know the love he grew up with.

Based on the short film of the same name by writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton (available on the feature film’s DVD extras), “Short Term 12” is an emotionally authentic study at the lives of troubled youths–what they go through, what they’ve been through, and how their futures can be in their own hands.

Among the youngsters are Jadyn (Kaitlyn Dever), a newcomer to the facility, whom Grace notices some similarities to her own teenage life, and Marcus (Lakeith Stanfield, the only actor to return from the original short), who was emotionally/physically traumatized by his mother and is about leave the home now that he’s reaching age 18. Grace and Mason listen to them tell their stories the only ways they know how in two particularly memorable moments–Marcus uses his own rap song to tell his story; Jadyn uses an illustrated parable from her journal.

I realize how many actors’ careers have really gone somewhere since this film. Lakeith Stanfield is one of today’s most reliable character actors. Kaitlyn Dever continues to impress me with each passing film (including “Booksmart,” which features my favorite performance of hers so far). Rami Malek, who recently won an Oscar, is in this movie as well, playing a meek new worker who finds a way to reach one of the kids.

Brie Larson is now one of our best actresses, and she did win an Oscar two years later (for “Room”). And she’s brilliant here as Grace. It’s really her story, as the film focuses predominantly on her inner life as well as her interactions with other characters. She’s subtle in her portrayal, but more importantly, Cretton’s writing of her is subtle as well. It’s understated and low-key, so we get as much as we can get without resorting to melodrama. I don’t feel a single false note in Larson’s performance.

And “Short Term 12” is a small masterpiece. A terrific film that I put in my personal Top 200 Favorite Films list. It’s a film that teaches us that no matter what we went through in our youth, we can help shape ourselves a bright future.

*At least half the titles on my best-of-the-2010s list were Oscar nominees/winners, so at least there’s that.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Short Term 12 (2013)”


  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] “Short Term 12,” “The Way, Way Back,” “The Big Sick,” “20th Century Women,” […]

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