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Short Term 12

The best Boxing Day release you've probably never heard of.
By Rima Sabina Aouf
December 20, 2013
By Rima Sabina Aouf
December 20, 2013

We normally associate Boxing Day releases with feelgoodery, dogoodery, comedy and special effects. Which is why it seems sort of hilarious when a film like Short Term 12 pops up at that time of the holiday season, determined to make its quiet realism heard. The SXSW Film Festival winner was number one on Buzzfeed's list of 'movies you probably missed in 2013 but definitely need to see', so if you get in quick, you can make it the no.1 movie you outsmarted Buzzfeed on instead.

Short Term 12 is the kind of film that feels like a well-edited version of real life — though probably not a life that is familiar to you, if you grew up in safe, loving circumstances. Compulsively watchable and super emotional, it revolves around the kids and their barely adult supervisors at a temporary foster care facility. The plot is nebulous, but the anchor is social worker Grace, played by Brie Larson, who you probably remember from United States of Tara and who puts in an incredible, name-making performance here.

Excellent at her job and in an adorable, supportive relationship with fellow supervisor Mason (John Gallagher Jr), Grace has her own childhood trauma that she's overcome (or at least repressed). But when a new girl, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), arrives at Short Term 12, she poses fresh challenges — particularly for Grace, who sees something of herself in the girl. Whether she'll be able to help Jayden, and herself, when the fog of emotion catches up to her is not a given.

Short Term 12 is deeply funny, heartbreaking and brave, exploring some taboo topics sensitively without once being sensationalist. Perhaps most impressive is the way writer and director Destin Cretton is able to leap tall towers of everyday humour and humanity and then suddenly drop you into a pit of total, gut-wrenching sadness in a single bound. It's never overwrought; his execution is swift and precise, and he lifts you right out again.

Often, it's through the kids' artistic expressions that their pain is most clear; a rap that guarded Marcus (Keith Stanfield) practices with Mason is wholly shattering, and Jayden, an avid drawer, has created a picture book that is not easy reading. The supervisors' calm, understanding reactions to all the crazy things that happen at the centre every day are a fascinating lesson in themselves.

Short Term 12 is ultimately hopeful and bittersweet. It's not all hobbits and light, but to watch Short Term 12 is to be exposed to repeated acts of compassion. And practice, they say, makes perfect. Perhaps that's why Short Term 12 is on the Boxing Day release list: it might help guide you into a kinder New Year.

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