Short Term 12
Destin Daniel Cretton could have set his story anywhere, but he chose a group foster home to explore issues of responsibility, social victimization and caring. The story centers around a handful of social workers who are counselors to a group of kids under 18.
The social workers are as caring as any parents you could hope for. In fact, that’s what they are to the kids: substitute parents, friends, and everything and everyone else in their young lives. The counselors are not that much older than the kids themselves and still retain an understanding of their problems that comes from having been there. They walk a tightrope as they try to make friends with the kids without completely erasing the distance between them, which would undermine the authority without which it would be impossible to teach anything or even maintain control of the situation. They play games with the kids, do puzzles, talk. Or just be there.
The troubles that led the kids to this group home are a legacy that is not easily overcome. The counselors, led by Grace (Brie Larsen) and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), sometimes feel that they are fighting insurmountable obstacles. The kids come from broken families, abusive parents, you name it, they’ve experienced it and have grown a thick skin of cynicism to protect themselves.
The occasional freakout has to be simmered down, reassured, hugged. It’s as if the kids are possessed by demons, and you never know when those demons will burst forth like a roman candle.
Some kids have a totally negative attitude, sometimes they respond, sometimes they seem to be learning something about shedding their self-destructive behaviour patterns. However well they do, when they reach 18, they will be out of the home and on their own. So the clock is ticking. They have to learn coping behavior, or they will surely end up in jail before long.
Director Cretton has not only created a viable universe within the confines of the group home, he has managed to bring a universality to the problems of a bunch of lost teenagers that makes them a microcosm of the world outside. The problems the kids face seem too deep for simple resolution. They are social problems, not just individual problems.
One of the beauties of this film—and there are many—is that, even though there are warm moments when the social workers feel like they have succeeded with a kid, you never get the feeling that there are easy answers. The kids’ problems are like the problems we all have. They were born into an imperfect world full of meanness and never had a chance to learn how to deal with their unjust share of its burdens. There is much pain, much sorrow in this world, but for these kids, there is hope. That’s the payoff of Short Term 12, which will make you feel better when you walk out of the theatre than when you walked in.