The first thing I did when I got my driver’s license was drive to the Castleton Arts movie theatre to see “Kissing Jessica Stein,” and I’ve supported independent film ever since. Movies don’t need budgets big enough to bail out small countries and a year long production schedule to be above and beyond good, and Destin Cretton’s new film “Short Term 12” is proof of that.
Set in a group home for troubled youth, “Short Term 12” tells the stories of Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), a young couple who keep the home running, and care for its young residents. Business is going as usual as it can when working with kids who come from beyond broken homes and occasionally break into frenzied fits while wearing a cape, until Grace finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant, and a newcomer to the home named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) makes the news an even harder pill to swallow. Pun recognized, but not intended.
Jayden brings up unresolved issues in Grace, and the drama evolves from there. I don’t want to give anything away, but it all culminates with a scene involving breaking and entering and a baseball bat that had enough suspense to make me want a whiskey ASAP. “Short Term 12” gives a realistic view of mental health problems and an environment that is usually overly-dramatized and wrought with inaccuracies. In a post-screening Q&A, John Gallagher Jr. revealed the realism was due to heavy research and shadowing actual group home professionals.
While we’re on the subject of JGJ, his performance as Mason was beyond impressive, and I’m not just saying that as a big fan of his work. (Remember when I wrote about it here and here?) After watching “Short Term 12,” followed by a marathon of “The Newsroom,” John… Mister Gallagher Jr… or whatever is appropriate for me to call him, got me thinking about acting in a way I never have before. Comparing Mason with Jim Harper isn’t quite like comparing apples and oranges. Both are well-intentioned, self-effacing characters who mask their insecurities with humor, however the subtle differences that JGJ (that’s what I’ll call him) brings to each makes me think that his nuanced approach is possibly way more complex than someone who plays a series of starkly different roles.
But enough of the writer trying to talk about acting… “Short Term 12” is a good investment of time, money, and a solid example of quality independent film. You should probably see it as quickly as possible. And a bonus for those of you still reading… I asked JGJ in the Q&A what he was listening to in a scene where Mason was wearing headphones, and while microphones made it impossible to listen to anything, he was pretending to jam out to The Clash.