Short Term 12 (Cinedigm, R)

dvd short-term12The residents have problems of the type you would expect to find in a fictional portrayal of this kind of facility, just as the barracks in World War II films always had a guy from Brooklyn and one from Texas.

 

 

Film festivals are important as a way for new films to receive critical notice and find their audience, and that holds doubly true for small, independent feature films and documentaries. I can’t think of a better way for a small film to find distribution, given the realities of the American film industry, but it’s always worth remembering that a film that seems over-the-top great at a festival—in part because it’s different from many of the five or so other films you’ve already seen that day—may seem merely good when at your local cinema or at home.

A case in point is Short Term 12, one of those intimate indie films that arrives on DVD bearing an impressive array of credentials: It was chosen as a New York Times’ Critics Pick and won a long list of festival awards, including the jury and audience awards for Best Feature from SXSW, Best Actress awards for Brie Larson from the Locarno International Film Festival and the Gotham Independent Film Awards, and Most Promising Filmmaker for director Destin Daniel Cretton from the Chicago Film Critics Association.

If I had seen Short Term 12 at SXSW or another major festival, I would probably have raved about it also. Watching it at home, however, I find it to be a good film and certainly worth seeing, with a great performance by Larson and excellent, naturalistic direction from Cretton, but also to be based on a script too predictable and melodramatic to really achieve greatness.

Short Term 12 is expanded from an excellent short film by Cretton that drew on his experience of working in a care facility for young people who are betwixt and between (due to psychological problems, home crises, and the like), but don’t expect to stay long—the name refers to the fact that most of them are there for less than 12 months. The staff members are pleasant and well meaning, and the residents have problems of the type you would expect to find in a fictional portrayal of this kind of facility, just as the barracks in World War II films always had a guy from Brooklyn and one from Texas.

It’s worth seeing Short Term 12 just for the performance of Larson as Grace, one of the counselors. She’s so natural in her role you forget that she’s acting, even though the script gives her a very predictable secret that (of course) gives her insight to the facility’s most disruptive resident (Kaitlyn Dever). Grace’s boyfriend and fellow counselor Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) is also natural in his role, although I never quite bought their dynamic as a couple trying to keep their relationship a secret. Keith Stanfield is quite good as Marcus, a teenager about to age out of the facility who has nowhere to go. On the other hand, Nate (Rami Malek) is saddled with a role as the new guy who says stuff (to the residents!) like “I’ve always wanted to help the underprivileged” (oops!) and is treated by the script as a Sarah Jane who is always getting things explained to him (and, thus, to us).

The DVD and blu-ray of Short Term 12 comes with over an hour of extras, including the original short film (well worth watching and, unlike the feature film, not at all obvious), a music featurette (also worthwhile, as the soundtrack is both subtle and effective), a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, trailers, and teasers. | Sarah Boslaugh

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