Brie Larson has remained one of the most subtle and hard working character actors in modern film, sometimes taking seemingly missed turns in great indies (The Spectacular Now), and often blowing people away with supporting performances (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). In “Short Term 12,” Larson proves she’s capable of being a lead and should often play the leading character in films that can show she’s a performer of beauty and immense vulnerability.
In “Short Term 12,” Larson plays the less glamorous but immensely passionate role of Grace, a counselor at a foster car facility. It’s a tough job to take because you have to play the job of parent and disciplinarian but you simply can’t form a bond with the young tenants. Director Destin Cretton chronicles the life of Grace and her fellow counselors, as they struggle to deal with the wild and rowdy teenagers living within the dorms, all the while confronting their own personal demons. Grace is a young girl who spends most of her days with her Mason, a fellow counselor who is passionately in love with her. Like the charges in their car, Grace is a damaged young girl who finds it difficult to embrace physical affection with her long time boyfriend after a history of sexual abuse.
The situation becomes even more complicated when she learns her father is going to be released from jail, which further pushes Grace back from long suffering Mason. The performances in the film often strive for honest and subtle, with portrayals of characters that have suffered for many years, and are doomed to wear their scars for the rest of their lives. Grace mistakenly finds herself bonding with a new tenant Jayden, a young girl with a history for cutting whose own life begins to parallel Grace’s in ways she never realized. All the while the oldest in the Short Term 12 facility Marcus, is about to be released, and dreads being brought out in to the real world without help.
Keith Stanfield’s performance is fantastic as the very wounded and vulnerable Marcus whose temperamental nature tends to contradict his gruff exterior. Much of the film’s focus is on Marcus as he realizes he has to confront the real world, all the while examining if he has it within himself to contribute to society without becoming another ill fated statistic of the program. Larson gives the stand out, proving she’s a more than capable and incredibly overlooked actress who manages to lend dimensions and pathos to a truly admirable but flawed character. I’d very much consider “Short Term 12” a masterpiece, as it’s a gripping and often compelling character study and a wonderful human drama.