Short Term 12 takes place at a foster care center for at-risk teenagers, told from the point-of-view of lead supervisor Grace. Director Dustin Daniel Cretton chronicled his own experiences working at an at-risk center in his original 2008 short film of the same name, which became the basis for this film.
As we witness the day-to-day life and professional experience of Grace (Brie Larson), as well as her relationship with her co-worker and long-term boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), we soon find that their own personal struggles are no less serious than those of the teenagers they supervise. They seem to see themselves (or, at least, an expression of themselves) particularly in the characters of Marcus and Jayden. Marcus (Keith Stanfield, reprising his role from the original short) is about to turn 18, yet he doesn’t want to leave. (He expresses himself through angst-ridden and profane rap music in one scene.) Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) has been in-and-out of foster homes, due to reckless behavior. We also learn that she comes from a family with an abusive father.
|Grace tries to get through to Marcus|
The ways that these characters have things in common—their imperfections, their willingness or, rather, lack of willingness to talk through things or to figure things out—illustrates the idea of suppressed emotions. Grace has obviously been at the foster center for many years and knows the ropes in handling other kids, as well as what they’re going through. Yet, she can’t seem to work or talk through her own doubts and fears, including her physical, emotional, and traumatic past scars. Like Marcus, she fears going through with various impending future outcomes—in her case, becoming a mother and becoming a wife. She also fears for Jayden and what she could continue to go through. It’s Mason (who grew up in a foster family himself) who begs her, “I’m asking you to just take the advice you give your kids every day and just talk to me.”
This film deals with some pretty heavy subject matter. There are issues of cutting, abortion, and abuse discussed or implied, as well as some questionable contemplation or actions in dealing with depressions or personal issues. The third-half of the film, in particular, gets dark. Also, there are some sexual references (including two main characters [unmarried] living together, and "scientific" anatomical pictures on a girl's bedroom wall), and there is occasional strong profanity throughout.
|Grace (right) listens to, and comforts, Jayden|
For those who do choose to see this film, be aware that it is a raw and sometimes painful story of broken people, as well as those who choose to help them. (Brie Larson called it “emotionally dense and subtle and complex.”) Yet, for all its flaws, the film does show authenticity, realism and understanding in these characters’ lives, in the most non-melodramatic way. It shines a light on the darkness these characters—both leaders and kids—struggle with, but it also offers, even in the hardest of circumstances, the promise of hope and what it means to be loved. In other words, they (and us, for that matter) can still find meaning in life, with support and accountability.