Sammy is a pale and furious vision. He is shirtless, young, scrawny and utterly enraged. He shrieks as he runs toward the small white gate that serves as the thin membrane between Short Term 12 (his group home) and his ridiculous idea of the life of an autonomous child. He is ferrel. He is angry. He is, as they say, “throwing a fit.” He is also dead in his tracks, suddenly caught, held down and screeching.
For a while he flails like a fish on sand but only for moments. It subsides while you watch. Mason asks him if he almost has it out of his system, which is clearly the case. Grace tells him to let it pass. It does. Now if we were all wise enough and smart enough, that one scene would have taught us everything we need to know from the movie “Short Term 12.” Thankfully, we are not yet that wise because the rest of the movie is so worth it.
The movie itself is a roller coaster of emotion of every type: sentiment, regret, fear, gratitude, glory, anger, sorrow… you name it. Yet unlike a lot of emotional films I found myself grateful for the ride because it was full of real life content, of actual humanity. Nothing is wasted. The emotions, no matter how quirky or painful, continue to drive the story about the characters rather than just being adjectives for them. It tells us that Marcus has suffered, not just that he is sad; Jaden is not merely a victim, she is a young woman full of wit and bravery. The film is full of what can only be called anguish, but it doesn’t make you agonize to see and to understand it.
Nevertheless it is very realistic. In fact, Sammy’s “fit” is all too real for those of us that have been there to see troubled teens lash out. It is also absolutely authentic in capturing how quickly such a tidal wave of fury can pass for a pre-teen once he is detained, held, and respected by those who care for him. The pain is ten times larger when you are inside it but if the right people can stand with you just outside the pain and give you room to thrash, it will eventually pass.
Short Term 12 is always saying something about why humans need humans, even if they are not the humans you planned on needing …but didn’t end up with. As the story progresses the complexity of the lives of Mason and Grace become clearer. They both have their own reasons for wanting to work with abandoned kids. In fact, as the story swells some fairly traumatic circumstances of thier lives put their very relationship, which should be deepening, at risk.
At one point Mason is trying to get Grace to take her own advice, and instead of shutting down in her pain to say something about it, to let it out, to let him in, even if it requires screaming like Sammy. It is good advice that he offers. Letting people in is risky and it takes work. I don’t want to spoil any plot points but I will say that the grace that Grace has been doling out to these kids, may be her own salvation. The grace you give may be your own.
The glory of Short Term 12, is that we all know something of what it feels like to be Sammy making a run for it. We all know something of anguish. This film seems to understand that as we make our way through life we will have moments when we will be inside the pain and the only thing that seems to make sense is screeching and running.
Such Moments are best handled by people around us who are willing to sieze us, take hold of us and slide to the ground and give us permission to throw fits and kick, and yell, and shriek, and fall. Hope, is always a matter of time, but if we are lucky, it is also a matter of grace. There are those who will believe for us (if we can’t) that what seems impossible will actually just take a little while.
The best thing I can possibly say about Short Term 12 is that there are no quotes around anything. What I mean to say is that nothing is posed or ironic. This is how life really is. This is the reality of people trying to be good humans in the wake of inhumanity. These characters have no time for irony. There is not a magic grocery bag twirling in the wind, no frogs from the sky trying to hint at something cosmic. They have to get on with their lives. They must. They find out that they themselves are recipients of the very thing they are trying to offer …that game changer we call grace.
This is the most realistic film you will see this year. It is also the most hopeful. Isn’t that a nice, and rare, combination.
Life is full of Sammy moments. As we get older we become a little more sophisticated in managing those… sometimes. Sometimes the pain becomes more sophisticated too. But the lesson is not entirely different. Let your friends catch you, go ahead and let it all out, and the insistent presence of others makes it work. Be open to grace. Be open to grace. The worst is over. The pain is ten times larger when you are inside it, but if the right people can stand with you just outside the pain and give you room to thrash, it will eventually pass. The worst of it all, as it happens, is short term. Grace tells us to let it pass. It does. Short Term.
If the content of Short Term 12 Is particularly moving for whatever reasons, please visit the Short Term 12 Project to get involved and make art.
Brother Doug, wonderful review and wonderful movie. I have never said anything like this about a movie before, but I actually feel honored that you though enough of me to tell me to go see it. Short Term 12 is, I agree, the most realistic movie and the most hopeful movie I’ve seen in a long time. I liked your reference to the swirling plastic bag. I used that same comparison when I was trying to describe the realism of Short Term 12 against the hyper-realism of American Beauty. Both are beautiful to me. But Short Term 12 is the most authentic movie I’ve seen in as long as I can remember.