Sunday, March 2, 2014

Short Cut Movie Review: Short Term 12

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.
Teen angst - ouch
Short Term 12 is like an after school special made to resemble a film. It has all the subtlety and nuance of those low-budget programs designed to teach a lesson or draw attention to a common teen problem. I just couldn’t believe I was seeing the same ham-handed approach to a theatrically-released film and actually made some critics’ top ten lists.

Brie Larson plays Grace (seriously, is that the best you could do for a name?), a young woman who works at a group home for troubled teens. Her boyfriend and co-worker (John Gallagher Jr.) is bearded and shaggy and just so perfectly supportive, caring, and nurturing toward this young woman whose troubled past is signaled by the way she picks at her cuticles, or becomes obsessed with a new arrival of a girl who dresses in dark clothing, is standoffish, has obvious daddy issues, and cuts herself. It doesn’t take a great deal of sleuthing to figure out exactly – and I mean precisely – what happened in Grace’s past to make her like this.


This is just a cookie-cutter approach to character and story. If I were twelve, I might think this movie truly profound. But writer-director Destin Cretton would have us think that child psychology is a fixe logic science: if A happens to a child, then B is the result. So a teen whose sister died has a childlike reversion in his behavior and has also taken on the playthings of his dead sister as if it were some attempt to keep her alive in his mind. Is this what passes for character development? One teen, upon reaching his eighteenth birthday and the inevitability of having to leave the group home to enter the world suddenly becomes suicidal despite no previous tendencies.

In crafting his story and screenplay, it certainly appears that Cretton didn’t undertake even a modicum of research. Did he spend any time at group homes like the one he depicts? Did he bother to talk to people who have volunteered or worked with troubled teens? What about abuse victims? Did he bother talking to anyone to get a sense for how their issues of the past manifest later in life? If he did, then I don’t think he was paying attention or he decided that the truth of life wasn’t convenient for the simplistic movie he had in mind. Of course, if he didn’t even bother to talk to a psychologist, then it’s just another example of his very sloppy approach to storytelling. Short Term 12 is shamefully bad for the way it tries to pass off incredibly complex issues of human behavior in the most inattentive way. This isn’t going to teach or help anyone.

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