Posts Tagged ‘Short Term 12’

I hope I don’t run out of clever puns for every one of Brie Larson’s movies. It anyone has one for Kong: Skull Island, I’m all ears. (Bong? How about Numbskull Island?)

For anyone still reading these, so far, I have covered two movies where she was the hot ex-girlfriend, one where she was pseudo-desired by the male lead, and one where she was practically mute. So I wanted to advance the story a little bit and cover a movie where she was actually the lead. And not just a co-star where she was sharing screen time with a man and playing off of him, like most would expect. Nope. Brie gets top billing here, and it was the first time that a lot of people stood up and took notice. I am, of course, talking about the 2013 indy-drama Short Term 12.

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I say “of course,” but don’t fret none if you haven’t heard of it, because I had never heard of it before I started my movie quest last year. It only made just over a million bucks in limited release in 2013. But actors don’t do these for money, right? No, of course not. They do it for love, and to get noticed so that you can go on to star in bigger and better things. (I mean, you don’t get to be Captain Marvel without paying some dues.)

Cynicism aside, this was a big deal for Brie Larson, and it was a big deal at SXSW that year, as well, winning the Grand Jury and Audience Award for Narrative Feature. Larson herself was nominated and won a bunch of festival awards, as well. And if you believe that Rotten Tomatoes isn’t just a BS site, Short Term 12 is only one of ten films to earn a 99% or 100% rating on there. Which sounds impressive, but when you consider how much online trolls mess with Rotten Tomatoes’ ratings system, it’s a little less so.

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But what’s the actual deal with this movie? Well, according to the IMDB logline, it’s about “a 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.” Now, I’ll admit right off the bat that this movie sounds pretty awful from that description. Like a Lifetime movie that is even too lame for Lifetime. But you can’t really go by two measly lines. Plus, the term “residential treatment facility” is so sanitized that it doesn’t begin to describe the kinds of things that happen in places like that. Basically, it’s a home for troubled teens, and Larson’s character, Grace, is pretty much the only one smart and caring enough to really do what she has to do to help these kids. And to pile on top of that stress, she’s pregnant! I know that some people say that there’s never a good time to be pregnant, but working in a place like that, it’s gotta be rough.

But what is this facility really all about. Well, Short Term 12 (The name of the movie and the facility) has tons of teens living there, but the movie mostly focuses on two, Marcus, who is turning 18 soon and finding the prospect of living in the world rather daunting, and Jayden, a recent arrival with a sordid history. Grace and Jayden feel a kinship, and after Jayden’s father doesn’t pick her up on her birthday and Jayden has an episode, Grace reveals some her own personal scars, physical and mental, as Grace used to cut herself. As an aside, I don’t think the movie delves into this too much, but in my experience (more on that later), revealing personal details like that to troubled teens should be a huge violation of the rules of the place, not to mention a ginormous error in judgement.

Jayden ends up leaving the facility, at night, forcing Grace to follow her (another big no-no is touching when you are alone with a kid in those situations, because it’s their word against yours.) They end up at Jayden’s Dad’s house, only to find it empty. Jayden returns to the facility and reads Grace a story that she wrote, and this all leads Grace to believe that Jayden was abused by her father.

Meanwhile, Grace herself is dealing with this whole pregnancy thing, and not really feeling it. In fact, she has made an appointment to get an abortion without telling her boyfriend, Mason, who also works at the facility. Mason is a nice guy, and trying to do all the right things, even proposing to Grace, because who wants a bastard? Grace accepts, but is again thrown for a loop when she receives a phone call the next morning informing her that her father is being released from prison. She then goes to work and finds out that Jayden has been picked up by her Dad, and is enraged, even though there was nothing anyone could do, since Jayden denied being abused, and that’s how the system works. Just to throw some more crap on the pile, poor Marcus, in an attempt to stay at the facility, or just because he’s psychologically damaged, attempts suicide after the death of his fish. What a world.

Grace then has a break down, tells Mason that she doesn’t want to marry him and that she’s getting an abortion. In her rage, she goes to Jayden’s house and breaks in, either to beat her father up, or at least find evidence of abuse (probably the first one.) Jayden thankfully stops her, and they decide that instead of smashing her father, they smash his car instead. I know that this was based on director Destin Daniel Cretton’s personal experiences, but I couldn’t find any evidence if this car-smashing was real or not, but if so, it sounds cathartic. Afterwards, Grace opens up about how she was abused by her father, and Jayden finally reveals the truth about how her father also abused her. They return to Short Term 12 and Jayden spills the beans.

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To tie everything up in a bow, Grace gets back with Mason, and they are seen getting an ultrasound, and even Marcus is going to be ok. Yay! Good triumphs over evil!

Sorry. I’m not making light of the circumstances, of course, but I think we know that these stories don’t end like this. Or end at all, really, unless the principles just get another job somewhere happier and the teens all move on at the same time. There are always going to be teens coming in to Short Term 12 with new problems. And let’s face it, Grace will always have to carry the burden of her own past. This isn’t one of those movies, though. This is just a capsule look inside the lives of these people, and it’s probably a look that most people need to take.

Many years ago, I worked a couple summers in a place similar to Short Term 12. Not exactly “troubled teens,” but certainly developmentally disabled. The girl I was dating at the time was similar to Grace, but unfortunately for her, I was no Mason. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything here. I hated that job. Obviously, there was no money in it, but of course I didn’t take it for money, so that’s not the reason it wasn’t for me. I just didn’t have the temperament for it, and I admire the Hell out of anyone who does. The alarms going off when a kid decides to bolt. The special staff that are called when a kid has to be restrained. The day I got spryaed with a fire extinguisher was particularly rough. My only saving grace was that I knew it was only for a few months. I really do respect people who do this all day, every day. And then it goes a step farther for people like Grace, who want to help, and go that extra mile every day to make these kids’ lives just a little bit better.

However, Grace has her own issues, as my girlfriend did back then. I often wondered if that was why she did it, that if she could help these kids, it would ease her own suffering somehow. Spoiler warning: it didn’t. She spiraled and spiraled and drank and spiraled and, as far as I can tell, is still spiraling down 15 years later, to the point where I believe that her mental anguish has manifested itself physically and is now breaking down her body (any smart people out there can feel free to dispute this, but until I see some proof that I’m wrong, I’m a believer). It makes me a little sad, obviously, but this is the tragedy of mental illness, especially when brought on by childhood abuse. Honestly, smashing the car was giving the guy a pass.

As I watched this movie, I wondered if the same fate would befall Grace, or if it did befall whoever Grace may have been based on in real life. Hopefully not. People do overcome these things. And I think that is the take-away here. The point was not to tie all the storylines up at the end like a sitcom. I think it was to open up some eyes, lift up some hearts, and maybe give some people a little hope.

Whew. That was a deep one. Next time, I’ll try to keep things a little lighter. Not sure what movie I’ll feel like covering, but just to put this one to bed: As mentioned above, this was Brie Larson’s first starring role, and the one that really got everyone’s attention. After a lot of filming in 2014, 2015 would be her breakout year, and we’ll get to that soon.