My top pick this week is the wonderful indie film "Short Term 12". Made on a small budget, this is a shining example of the minimalist poignancy that can come from independent filmmaking. Directed by Destin Cretton, the film serves as a platform for a breakthrough performance by the seemingly ubiquitous Brie Larson.
The protagonist of our story is a young woman named Grace (Larson), who is a supervisor in a foster care facility. Overseeing a diverse group of kids until their 18th birthday, she faces a plethora of challenges on a daily basis. Thankfully, she's great at her job. She's acutely aware of the type of intervention needed in times of crisis, whether it be a simple fight or suicidal thoughts. Even though the center has a trained therapist, she lacks the instincts that Grace has.
As we follow her daily activities, the script quietly asserts its brilliance. It's one of the most sympathetic scripts I've ever come across, giving dramatic weight to all its characters. It's rare for a script to give you the sense that a full back-story exists for each character, without even explicitly detailing it. They all feel like they have a past, present and future that is tangible and real. By the end of the film, you're bound to have so much affection for all these people.
My own enthusiasm for the characters can largely be attributed to the film's excellent tonal balance. It conveys a pleasant feeling without being overly cheerful. Even though its optimistic, it never shies away from the melancholy that results from a child being parentless. Orphan stories are a dime a dozen though, so this wasn't anything revelatory. What does make the film stand out however, is its examination of the nature of charity. Many times in inspirational stories, the heroes dedicate their lives to other people simply based on the notion that humans are inherently good. While I'm not disputing that, there's usually something a bit false about how its portrayed in film. In reality, people don't naturally gravitate towards charity (unless you have large sums of money to throw at people), no matter how kind and caring they are. I know I've personally seen many advocacy documentaries and "Feed The Children" infomercials, but I hardly ever give a dime. What I loved about this film then, is how it hones in on Grace's motivations. She isn't just magically skilled at working with kids, she's coming from her own troubled life experiences. It takes dedication and purpose to be the best in your chosen career and the film shows this perfectly.
While the screenplay is doing everything right, it's possible to underestimate the tremendous skill that went into Brie Larson's performance. She's so calm and subtle, often to the point of whispering. Still, I can't help but consider it a "tour de force". She's thoroughly engaging and believable in every scene. It's such a wonderful celebration of the fine work that people like Grace do every day.
"Short Term 12" is hopefully the first of many strong feature films to come for Destin Cretton. His screenwriting skill and ability to get strong performances from his cast (especially Brie Larson, Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever) bodes well for his future in the industry. I'll certainly be on the lookout for whatever he does next.