American critics fell hard for this thoughtful US indie about the staff of a foster care home for troubled teens: the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page is littered with words like ‘exceptional’ and ‘devastating’. Another adjective that comes up a lot is ‘authentic’, so maybe it’s a matter of cultural disconnect (the Americans do tend to wear their emotions a little more openly than the rest us). But viewers on this side of the pond might feel more manipulated than convinced by this weighty but overwrought melodrama.
In one thing, however, we’re all agreed: up-and-comer Brie Larson is enormously enjoyable in the central role of Grace, the care worker who finds her attachment to the centre and its occupants overshadowing her personal life. Her boyfriend and co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr) tries to give Grace the space she needs, but when she falls unexpectedly pregnant the couple recognise a need to get their affairs in order.
There’s heart, soul and personality to burn in ‘Short Term 12’, and first-time feature director Destin Daniel Cretton is undoubtedly one to watch. But this is a film that, like many of its young characters, desperately needs to calm down. The giddy emotional peaks come like clockwork every five to seven minutes, and it’a exhausting watching these youngsters weep, scream, lash out, apologise, lash out again, and finally lapse into brooding silence.
The film also marks the return of that all-too-familiar facet of stories about problem kids: extreme prodigiousness. In this shelter alone there’s a 17-year-old rapper with skills that’d turn Jay-Z green, and a 14-year-old girl who isn’t just an artistic genius but expresses her horrific home situation in the form of a neat little moral fairy tale. So for all its humanistic warmth and undoubted charm, ‘Short Term 12’ just never quite rings true.