Friday, September 20, 2013

Short Term 12 (Rhoades)

“Short Term 12”
Examines At-Risk Kids

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ve watched the Keys Coalition struggle to make a difference when it comes to at-risk kids, in their case human trafficking. But there are a lot of young people at risk -- from drugs, broken homes, criminal activities, angst, and anger.

Some at-risk kids wind up living in group homes where counselors, sometimes not much older than them, try to help them sort through the challenges of life.

“Short Term 12” -- currently playing at the Tropic Cinema -- is a film that captures this process, focusing on a twentysomething counselor named Grace (Brie Larson) and her co-worker Mason (John Gallagher. Jr.). But what the film (winner of a Grand Jury Narrative Feature Award and the Narrative Audience Award at this year’s SXSW film festival) actually does is to help you see this situation from the at-risk teens’ point of view.
Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is an intense boy about to leave the facility, this foster-home the only anchor he’s known in life. And Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is a gifted girl that Grace seems to connect with.
Sure, we have the subplot of Grace being in love with her co-worker Mason, not to mention dealing with her own troubled past, but it’s the youngsters under her care that provide the heart of this touching and troubling film.

You might recognize Brie Larson (née Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers) from her appearances on TV’s “United States of Tara” and such popular movies as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “21 Jump Street.” And John Gallagher, Jr. has had a great season as Jim Harper on Aaron Sorkin’s TV drama, “The Newsroom.” You’ve also seen him in “Pieces of April” and “Jonah Hex.” Mostly, he’s known for his Broadway work.

However, it’s newcomer Keith Stanfield who delivers a nuanced performance that gives you an unvarnished insight into this world. The lanky boy burns with an intensity that hides his vulnerability. He request to shave his head for his 18th birthday is a symbolic rite of passage that says it all.
All that aside, the real credit for this gentle drama goes to filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton. His verisimilitude comes from the two years he spent working in a group home after college. The character Nate (played by Rami Maler) is modeled after himself, the eager yet clumsy caregiver out to save the world.

Cretton gives that ambition another try with this complex, but engaging film. He may not have saved the world, but he shines light into a little corner of it.

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