Monday, October 07, 2013

A Troubled Brie Larson Takes Care Of Troubled Teens In SHORT TERM 12

SHORT TERM 12 (Dir. Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013)

Brie Larson isn’t a household name yet, but she’s getting closer bit by bit with roles in recent buzzed about films like THE SPECTACULAR NOW and DON JON, in which she plays Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s always texting sister.

Larson’s strong work in Destin Daniel Cretton’s feature length debut as writer/director, SHORT TERM 12, based on his 2008 short film of the same name, definitely deserves recognition as a breakthrough performance on the scale of Elizabeth Olsen’s performance in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and Jennifer Lawrence in WINTER’S BONE.

Larson plays Grace, a supervisor at the foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers of the title, who’s in a serious relationship with her co-worker Mason (The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.), but can’t bring herself to open up to him about her troubled history, especially now that she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Between having to chase down runaways, the couple deal with the arrival of Kaitlyn Dever as a jaded 15-year old girl (aptly named Jayden) whose bad attitude is justified by what he learn about her abusive father, and the upcoming departure of Keith Stanfield (the only cast member reprising his role from the short) as a long term resident, and aspiring rapper who’s about to turn 18.

The intimate nature of the acting aided by straight forward thoughtful tone of Cretton’s screenplay drew me into this slice of these people’s lives in that “oh, I’ve known people just like these” kind of way. At various times throughout my younger years, I had both been somebody who was scared of opening up to others, and somebody who was desperately trying to get somebody else to open up. I was genuinely feeling Larson working both ends of this - we see without any heavy handiness that she’s great at her job, but lousy at life.

Dever’s situation affects Larson deeply, both having been labeled “cutters,” and they have a standout scene where they bond over bashing in the windows of Dever’s father’s car with a baseball bat.

Meanwhile Gallagher attempts some closeness with Stanfield before he leaves. Their bond comes in the form of Gallagher plays bongos to Stanfield’s rapping of some original, and very personal, lyrics he jotted in a notebook, the sentiment of which should be appreciated by even non-hip hop fans.

There are a few threads that are tied up a little too neatly – the film is best when it’s about how messy life can be – and the shaky cam may get a bit too shaky, but the overall picture Cretton paints is one of low budget beauty.

Despite winning awards at SXSW, and various other film festivals this year, SHORT TERM 12 has been pretty poorly attended at my local art house theater, the Colony in Raleigh, N.C., where it’s only playing for one week. That’s a shame, because it’s a well worth seeking out indie with what should be a star-making turn by an actress that if you don’t know now, you surely will soon.

More later...