Blog Directory CineVerse: Growing up the hard way

Growing up the hard way

Thursday, March 16, 2017

When's the last time a modern motion picture actually made you feel something genuine, actually moved something inside of you--without resorting to shameless schmaltz or formulaic melodrama? Unless you don't have a pulse, it's hard not to be stirred by "Short Term 12," certainly one of the finest films of the last several years and a refreshingly rare look inside the lives of an overlooked subset of our society: abandoned, abused and troubled teenagers and the people entrusted with caring for them. After careful examination, our CineVerse group came to the following conclusions about this movie:

It’s brave: it isn’t afraid to show, warts and all, the inner workings of a group home for wayward adolescents and all of the tremendous psychological and emotional problems that can beset this population.
Arguably, it’s one of the greatest films about “social work” that’s ever been made; we often get depictions of psychiatrists and psychologists/therapists in movies, but rarely do we see what supervisors of group homes and social workers have to do. They are operating on the front lines of a psychological battlefield populated by children.
This film is well-balanced totally – it’s sad, funny, uplifting, and suspenseful; it includes just enough mirthful moments to help neutralize a lot of the melancholy and depressing elements, stories and characters. As Katie Walsh from IndieWire wrote: “What could drift into melodrama or sentimentality is always righted by the realistic and delicately varied tone of the film. Real life drags people through a lot of different emotions from moment to moment, and the film captures just that.”
The screenplay is excellent: the dialogue is credible and rich, the characters are deeply layered with understandable motivations and personalities, and the storylines and subplots are arresting. The movie is smartly bookended by two different escape attempts from one of the teens. Walsh further wrote: “The storytelling is deliberately structured, drawing you and instantly to these characters and then allowing their stories to open up like an onion, reveal after reveal leaving the viewer devastated, hopeful, or breathless with suspense… Short Term 12 expresses its serious subject matter in a fresh and authentic manner, never relying on the content itself to keep the viewer’s interest but how it unfolds for the audience, anchored to these characters who we grow to deeply care about.”
The story in the background is the plight and problems of the teens in the group home; but the bigger story in the foreground is the relationship between Grace and Mason, and Grace’s past coming back to haunt her – especially in the context of her care of Jayden, who reminds Grace of herself.

It looks like a documentary. Scenes filmed at the group home were shot at a previous short-stay facility. Director Destin Daniel Cretton based the story on his personal experiences working in a group home for teenagers. Also, research shows that the majority of kids in the movie were cast via open casting calls and most lacked any previous acting experience. It also helps that two of its actors who are now semi-stars – Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield – were relatively unknown when this film was released theatrically. Having fresh young unidentifiable actors appear in your film gives it a blank slate upon which the audience can paint their own picture, without bringing any baggage to the viewing.
Using a handheld, mobile camera, extreme close-ups, and long/unbroken takes lend a vibe of immediacy and verisimilitude to the movie, making viewers feel like they’re getting a rare, privileged, private view inside these lives—like we’re following them around. 
The film has many lingering moments of quietude that force you to pay close attention to the performances and even the smallest of sounds—creating a feeling of greater intimacy.
The score is not syrupy, bombastic, or shamelessly emotionally manipulative. It kind of hangs out subtly in the background to shade our experience and add a tinge of emotional color.
Several characters shed tears, and they absolutely look real and non-contrived—which is a testament to solid acting.

Psychological scars run deeper and heal slower than physical wounds.
Even the most troubled child is worthy of redemption and capable of healing.
Suppressing or denying old emotional wounds can come back to haunt you – sometimes these are lifelong struggles that have to continue to be managed.
Even the most challenging jobs and difficult tasks can be extremely rewarding – in this context, supervising and caring for troubled children can be gratifying and fulfilling.
Love and compassion can overcome fear, anger and sadness.
The challenge (and irony of) preparing to bring another child into a world that is already so difficult for children.
Grace under pressure—literally. Grace is bombarded with challenges: the lingering specter of an abusive father, pregnancy, connecting with her boyfriend, managing and coping with troubled teens, etc.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story
The Spectacular Now
Girl, Interrupted
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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