Short Term 12
Movies that take place in institutions are usually intriguing because they restrict the majority of their action to a highly specialized environment with clearly defined rules and relational dynamics. The people who inhabit these setting, both residents and employees, make for rich screen characters because of the inherently dramatic backstories that bring them together. There's a wealth of great prison movies, but films about mental institutions, addiction centers or halfway houses often devolve into “issue” movies with a saccharine, patronizing tone, and too many overwritten scenes and Oscar-baiting monologues. For every One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Shock Corridor, there are dozens of mediocre to terrible pictures like Girl, Interrupted, Awakenings, Crazy People, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Patch Adams.

Short Term 12
, a tiny indie film that won big with the audience and jury at this year’s SXSW fest, succeeds beautifully at capitalizing on what makes institution movies work while avoiding almost all the potential pitfalls. Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton (last year’s I Am Not a Hipster) expanded his 2008 short film of the same name into this solid and emotionally satisfying feature, which also provides a showcase for actress Brie Larson (Greenberg, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Rampart). Larson plays Grace, a gifted but troubled twenty-five year-old supervisor at a facility for at-risk adolescents. The film tells Grace’s story by observing her interactions with the teenagers she and her boyfriend, played by John Gallagher, Jr., are caring for. The director and his youthful cast create a world that's instantly believable.  Everything about the patients and the facility feels authentic, which enables each beat of Cretton’s carefully plotted screenplay to fall gracfully into place.

Cretton shoots the movie in the intimate, hand-held style of most modern low-budget pictures, and this generic visual aesthetic, not to mention the awkward title, might cause many potential viewers to skip the film (if they even had a chance to see it during its very limited release). But it is well worth seeking out, even for those not generally drawn to this type of material. Larson gives the kind of breakout performance that we go to indie movies to see (think Ellen Page in Hard Candy, Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Brit Marling in Another Earth or Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene). But, like those pictures, Short Term 12 is more than just a vehicle in which to see a great young actress become a movie star.  It is a moving portrait of several young people trying to overcome the raw deal life has dealt them. The film is funny, tense and enlightening while never lapsing into melodrama or manipulative tear-jerking. Cretton's wonderful film about institutions has a real human heart.
Directed by Destin Cretton
Produced by Joshua Astrachan, Asher Goldstein, Ron Najor, and Maren Olson

Written by Destin Cretton

With: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Alex Calloway, Kevin Hernandez, Lydia Du Veaux, Keith Stanfield, and Frantz Turner

Cinematography: Brett Pawlak
Editing: Nat Sanders
Music: Joel P. West

Runtime: 96 min
Release Date: 23 August 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1