January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Short Term 12 Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield (6/10) Short Term 12: Actors often talk about doing paycheck roles in order to afford passion roles. Short Term 12 is the kind of film that is for passion, not a paycheck. The title refers to the building the characters of the film work in, at a facility for teenagers in the foster system who are not able to be housed, temporarily, for one reason or another.

Before watching the film, I did some research on the foster care system so I would know one or two basic facts going into the movie. So coming out of this fictionalized version of a very real universe, I feel compelled to say that actors love to act ‘real’ in ways that are completely manufactured. Brie Larson, darling cutie of many young adult movies lately, stars as Grace, an aptly named young adult working at the aforementioned facility, where she seems to be the equivalent of that grizzled sergeant who has seen everything and has every kind of war wound but sticks with the grunts in the shit because that’s what real soldiers do. She is advocate and understander for every type of kid the film shows us. Whatever that particular child went through; so did she. I will grant that someone working in the foster care system for a few years has probably been exposed to every type of trauma, neglect, abuse and dysfunction a person could possibly suffer from who would wind up in the foster system. However, it’s a rather large contrivance that she is the wise sage for all the very different abuses and disorders these kids go through. The film also conveniently skips drug addiction as a problem for either the kids or their unfit parents. Namely methamphetamine, which is in reality one of the primary reasons kids end up in the foster system.

Not once does her character admit that she does not know what it’s like to be a particular kid in a particularly tough spot. It felt like the indie-drama version of a Steven Segal or Chuck Norris movie where they can slow-mo round-house kick their way to victory no matter how big, fast, or accurate their foe and their firearms are. The film also followed a very rote indie story structure of people living on the financial fringe, including the part where Larson’s Grace is in a relationship with Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) that kinda works but kinda doesn’t which leaves the female lead feeling emotionally torn over choices that happy couples share with joy rather than conflicted emotions. Mason’s post-modern drug-free hippie character rings slightly truer, as a endlessly hopefully, upbeat, positive, scraggily bearded co-worker who loves to hear the black kids’ raps while over-zealously bopping to the beat. Guys like him exist, which is kind of creepy but also probably a good thing in the end. I digress:

I saw shades of “The Good Girl” (the Jennifer Aniston indie where a twenty-something woman in disappointing life cycle at a low-paying profession connects with a young co-worker), shades of “Half-Nelson” (the Ryan Gosling indie where a twenty-something man in a disappointing life-cylce at a frustrating profession connects with a young student) and so on. Just as big-budget hollywood computer effects extravaganzas and television procedurals and virtually any romantic comedy from any media outlet have tropes and structures that are rigidly adhered to, so do indie dramas that function as the Hollywood equivalent of a human-interest piece in a largely fluff publication. I just don’t buy it, no matter how ‘real’ the acting is, or how dressed down the stars are.


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