Short Term 12 was the toast of this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, winning both the Grand Jury Prize in the Narrative Feature Competition and the Audience Award. Its overwhelming festival circuit success makes it feel like this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was Oscar-nominated after conquering Sundance. Like Beasts, ST12 has been much buzzed about, racking up a string of superlative notices singing the prasies of its life-enriching power.
In the end, it’s probably too much of a downer to ride rave reviews all the way to the Academy Awards, but the sense of catharsis one experiences after having seen it is heartbreakingly genuine, free of Beasts‘ wretchedly pious mumbo-jumbo and cutesy spiritual guff.
A strangely sweet and sentimental film that offers laughter and tears in equal doses, this story of troubled twenty-somethings working in a foster home for troubled teens finds Brie Larson’s Grace trying to right the wrongs of her abused childhood by firecely protecting the kids in her care. Perseveringly philanthropic whilst also projecting her private pains on to her adolescent charges, the unguarded ease with which Grace oversteps professional boundaries – seemingly unable to compartmentalise her life from theirs – is what’s really riveting about this redemption story.
A tortured and torturous personality, watching Grace’s personal struggle is to watch Larson wrestle this complex character to the ground, the type of actor’s showcase where the performer perfectly attunes to the evolving mental state of the person they’re playing. Getting deep under the skin of Grace, Larson appears to shed her own on screen, in a performance worthy of serious awards consideration.
Aesthetically, director Cretton views his characters from a position of agitated observation, pushing past the docu-drama detachment of his shooting style during confessional exchanges that get so up close and personal, they feel somewhat surreal. Like the indie equivalent of tentpole shots in a blockbuster, Short Term 12 has plenty of unforgettable moments of characters laying themselves bare.
With all the makings of a popular hit, the film’s eventual success is dependant upon word of mouth continuing to catch fire. As our interview shows, Larson and Cretton know they’ve got something people are strongly responding to and connecting with. What’s more, they have a keen sense of why that is. If the reaction at SXSW is anything to go by, the director and his rising star are just getting started.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on November 2, 2013
Apologies for the audible hiss and low volume of this recording. Rushing between interviews at LFF, one of our mics was damaged and we only realised this after the interview. Be sure to adjust your volume accordingly.