By Lynsey Clark
An unusually genuine drama that examines the residents and their caretakers at a foster care home, Short Term 12 follows the development of supervisor Grace dealing with life changing decisions over the course of a week. The residents of the home and their past trauma is also central to the story. From the beginning the characters of the film defy standard or simple interpretations. Writer and director Destin Daniel Cretton avoids the common images that are usually conjured when depicting kids who have been abused or neglected. Instead each character shows depth and complexities that does the subject justice.
The young adult staffers are charged with providing a safe environment for the youth. Their tasks include keeping an eye on the front gate or searching their rooms for contraband, but they are not supposed to provide mental health or psychiatric services. However, the staffs constant proximity to the youth is the basis for an unique authority on the residents and their needs. Although we are told that the youth receive sessions with trained therapists (always off screen), tensions are expressed when the professionals implement treatments that are off base to the real needs of the kids. This is the only time that the film rests on convention; therapists are out of touch and management corrupt.
The heart of the film lies in the bonds between the young staff and the residents, which provide moments of catharsis and poignancy, but not in the usual places. It’s these moments of realness that gives the film authenticity, which may be credited to Cretton’s experience working in foster homes before turning to filmmaking.This authenticity is also reflected in the characters development, which is anything but the stereotypical. Its characters are complex, smart, and surprising. Marcus, the young man on the verge of aging out of the foster care system, is initially depicted as volatile and angry but proves to be intelligent and articulate when expressing his feelings toward the abuse he experienced while selling drugs as a ten year old for his strung out mother. Jayden the unfriendly Goth girl from a nice house in the suburbs hides her bruises.
Like the foster youth Grace and her boyfriend have histories of abuse and foster care. Their professional prowess, which is both strong and compassionate, provides evidence that with time and care abuse can be overcome. By becoming leaders and healers to others in need we see hopeful outcomes even during the saddest moments. Short Term 12 is truly worth seeing- and remembering.