Destin Cretton’s “Short Term 12”: A Top Indie-Developed Film of 2013

Poster for SHORT TERM 12 (2013)

Poster for SHORT TERM 12 (2013) — image source: EIGHTEENTWELVE on Tumblr

Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Short Term 12 (2013) is the feature-length version of Cretton’s 2008 short film of the same name. The latter won the Short Filmmaking Award at the 2009 Sundance Festival, while the former garnered even more honors and awards, including the audience and grand jury awards at South by Southwest in 2013. The short, developed from Cretton’s thesis film at San Diego State University, demonstrates how an indie filmmaker with a quality product can — with the right combination of skill and good fortune — draw attention and support to him- or herself.

Both films are based on Cretton’s own experience while working with at-risk adolescents in a group home, a job he took while doing his undergraduate degree (also in the San Diego area). Out of this experience he created a story that is both funny and moving and characters that are very rounded and believable. This is what a filmmaker can do, given talent and the opportunity to develop a project from  film school into a festival-ready short, and finally into a feature film.

It also helps to have an outstanding cast as well. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. play a couple, Grace and Mason, who work at Short Term 12, a group home for at-risk teens. Despite their own troubled backgrounds, they have developed a workable rhythm in their personal and work lives — one that is disrupted by events that occur in both spheres. At the same time that Grace becomes involved with helping a new female resident, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), whose life reminds her of her own adolescence, she finds out that she is pregnant. These two events act as triggers that bring to the surface deep-seated problems related to her own past. She had successfully pushed these issues out of her conscious thoughts by immersing herself in her work — a questionable strategy that is nevertheless endemic to many in the helping professions. However, when she learns that her abusive father is about to get out of prison after ten years of confinement, she can no longer contain all of her thoughts and emotions, which she channels into trying to protect Jayden from further abuse at the hands of her father. Her life seems to be falling apart until she receives support and insight from those whom she least expects to be able to do so — the residents of Short Term 12.

Grace (Brie Larson) talks with resident Marcus (Keith Stanfield)

Grace (Brie Larson) talks with resident Marcus (Keith Stanfield) — image source: Salon

Having worked at adolescent mental health facilities (including one in the San Diego area), I feel that the setting and characters of this film are very realistic. Since this is not a movie with a strong agenda to push or overpowering message to preach, this realism is used in the service of showing how people, whether they are identified as “patients” or not, struggle with the past and its continuing effects on their present lives. It also shows how they can transcend this suffering.

Although there are “feel-good” aspects to this movie, it does not pull punches. Short Term 12 (the group home) does not become the Village of the Happy People in the final scene. After all, the same incident that opens the film also closes it. Rather, it is the characters’ attitudes towards themselves, their lives, and other people that change. And THAT’S the point.

FRISCO KID’s Rating: 5 stars

Short Term 12 was rated R by the MPAA. It has a runtime of 96 minutes. It is available on DVD/Blu-Ray and via streaming video services like iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and Google Play. This review was based on the DVD version.