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Movies about foster children often come with a certain stigma of being sappy and manipulative. But behind the dull and unattractive title, Short Term 12 shows genuine heart, which makes us care about these characters.
Written and directed by Destin Cretton, Short Term 12 is the story about a young couple who run a facility for children in need. Just don’t mention to the kids that they are underprivileged. Cretton’s script is beautifully written and presents these kids as fully dimensional rather than shallow characters defined only by their troubles.
Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. play Grace and Mason, the young couple who are very charismatic and believable as a real couple who really loves each other. But as we soon learn, it is not just the kids who need help getting past their demons. Almost every one of the characters carries around scars, both physically and emotionally. Some go deeper than others and take more than time to heal.
Grace is the one who manages all of the kids and treats them as if they were her own. Inside the facility she is the one people turn to for answers, but outside of those walls we learn that Grace is struggling to keep her life together. She is emotionally distant from Mason, partly due to the surprise realization of an unwanted pregnancy. Grace really does love children, but believes that she is not ready to raise a child of her own. As a result, she has serious doubts about keeping the baby.
Cretton does an excellent job using the camera that makes us to feel as if we are one of the children observing the action. Cretton invites us into many personal situations and has the camera lingering on the subjects without a cut so that the tension and the emotional velocity continues to grow, not giving us a chance to catch our breath.
For a movie that involves many dark themes, this is not a depressing movie. There are lots of lighthearted and humorous moments throughout, many of which involve new staff member Nate, played by Rami Malek, who awkwardly tries to fit in with the community. None of the characters are overly serious about anything because if they were than they wouldn’t be able to develop relationships with each other and the movie would become much less enjoyable.
Nobody in this movie is perfect; they each have their own troubles. Some have overcome their problems and others are experiencing their darkest moments, but they are not alone. Opening up and letting people in can be a very difficult thing to do. Grace is experiencing this firsthand. Although she is trying to have others open up to her, she doesn’t come off as hypocritical because it is so difficult to do. And like Grace, we are patient with all of these characters because we care about them so much and are eager to see them overcome this obstacle.