Saturday, September 21, 2013

Short Term 12 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"Short Term 12" is a sneaky hit. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and based on his short film, the story concerns life in a center for troubled and abused kids. Short Term 12 is executed in a telescopic Mumblecore style, but the deep, sophisticated characterizations make a richer experience than your typical Indie about relationships.

Grace (Brie Larson) is a tough yet empathetic counselor who handles bunches of youngsters with verve, snap and deliberateness.

And she has issues of her own.

There is Sammy (Alex Calloway) who plays with dolls. There is the aspiring rapper Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who charges his songs with unique originality and vivid detail about disposable youth. Then there is Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) a subversive and impetuous girl who doesn't see the point of anything yet possesses an unrestrained whimsy, despite her self-cutting.

These adolescents are no mere cardboard representations but real fleshy, take-action people that just might change the world if only their environments had been slightly different. Day after day, we witness life in this building and the focus is both insular and sweeping. There is a perspective here that is just a bit like life inside a submarine. At any moment, a siren might go off  signaling the launch of an AWOL resident. These incidents are surprising and sudden, but the counselors treat them with a carnival sense of joie de vivre rather than a wrath of corporeal punishment. As they run, the kids themselves see each chance as a game or adventure, at times, rather than a mad dash for what lies beyond. The aides encircle each runner with a festive intensity that speaks of play as much as regulation.

Sometimes, the staff has to restrain someone, and each person exchanges repartee that recalls Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in "Ghostbusters".

At day's end, we have a sense that Grace deflates with the gravity of the world pressing upon her. She lives for her work and genuinely loves her responsibilities. Grace  has reason to celebrate though, as she is in love with her gentle co-worker /boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) All is not bliss though, Grace is prone to sudden rages and acute mood swings. She has learned of a pregnancy and more troubling still, Grace's violent and abusive father is about to be released from prison.

The charm of this film is that the adults depicted are on equal footing with the kids. Each character has a well rounded personality without sap or melodrama. As in life, we see each person unvarnished with more than a bit of wilt and uncertainty.

The acting of Keith Stanfield, full of enigmatic energy, ambivalence and a natural softness is a highlight that almost stands alone.

Brie Larson also is a galvanic surprise as she becomes more than a bit unhinged, but never veers into unreal camp.

"Short Term 12" is an vibrant and colorful look inside a facility that some never know. The residents and staff are shown with a picaresque and motley sense of sweetness that is not without its danger.

This is a somewhat deceptive, simply told film that will grab at your heart with its warmth and haunting details.

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