Short Term 12, which won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards for best narrative film at SXSW, was written and directed by the up-and-coming film festival darling Destin Daniel Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster).
Based on a short film that was Cretton's master’s thesis, and which won the Jury Prize at Sundance, the story draws on his own post-college experiences working in a group home for troubled children.
The film follows two workers at a similar facility who are in love with each other and also committed to helping their charges. While the storyline is at times clichéd (the group home manager bonds with one of the teens because she shares a similar abusive past), the acting is first-rate.
John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom) and Brie Larson (United States of Tara) are the compelling leads, with Kaitlyn Dever and my favorite, Keith Stanfield, giving excellent performances as two of the teens. Stanfield, who was in the short film, is an unknown, as are several of the other young actors in the film.
Short Term 12 borrows from nonfiction techniques with its use of handheld (or made to look handheld) shots, which can become distracting. Director Cretton says the shaky shots were part of his intention to “strip things down as much as possible” and “keep it real.” He didn’t want the “artifice” of the directing to show.
But the ubiquity of “shaky cam” shots has become its own artifice, and in my opinion, actually focuses more attention on the directing. The film is at its best when the shots are held and we feel as if we’re really with the teens and their anguish. This film is worth watching to see both directing and acting talent on the rise.