Foster the People

I get the feeling that I fall squarely in the middle of the Movie Snob Spectrum. There are plenty of silly movies that I unironically enjoy that serious film enthusiasts would look down on me for. And there are plenty of deep, arty movies I unironically enjoy that the general populace would consider me stuffy and pretentious for liking. There's room in my heart for both, so I try to keep something of an open mind, although both camps are correct that the other has its share of stinkers. There are truly movies that strike me as too dumb to waste my time with, and movies so in love with their own artistry that they become unwatchable. So when members from all over the spectrum start putting a movie on their Best Of... lists, I perk up.

That's what happened with Short Term 12, an indie drama that I saw zero marketing for. This movie came to my attention purely through word-of-mouth. Everyone I follow who saw it not only liked it, but went out of their way to set it apart as one of last year's best. So when a friend and I were going down rental options for the evening, I jumped at the chance to vote for this one. He, despite being very knowledgeable about the general movie landscape, had never heard of it (ZERO MARKETING), but was willing to give it a shot. And thank goodness, because I've been seeing some really remarkable movies lately, and this one still managed to rocket up to being one of my recent favorites.

Short Term 12 centers on Grace (Brie Larson), a floor worker at a group home for troubled, at-risk kids. Grace is extremely good at her job, striking a perfect balance between being the authority figure the kids need and the compassionate listener that they want. She works alongside Mason, her secret-but-not-really boyfriend who is similarly capable and adept at the job. We spend some time getting to know some of the residents of the facility and the problems that landed them there before the plot is propelled forward by new arrival Jayden. Jayden's situation mirrors some of Grace's own past issues, and in the face of a girl she feels she can't help, Grace's professional facade begins to crumble.

Brie Larson is just outstanding in this movie. She's one of those actresses that has been quietly building, until that one day she bursts through and you realize that she's not only outstanding in this, but has the range to be outstanding in this AND The Spectacular Now AND Scott Pilgrim vs. the World AND a bit part in Community.

There are several outstanding facets to this movie, and one of them is that it successfully portrays "the system" as both a well-meaning entity constructed to do all it can for disadvantaged kids, and as a mess of bureaucratic red tape, revolving doors for residents that never improve, and insufficient mental health care. Grace is content to work within the rules until it becomes clear that those rules are a real obstacle to helping a girl in her charge, and despite (or really, because of) her own traumas, she refuses to put up with it. This is also a film that portrays abuse and its fallout in refreshingly realistic methods. It is by turns heartbreaking, tense, and funny, and I'm not surprised it ended up on so many critics' lists of the best movies of last year. Had I seen it last year, it would have been on mine, too.

Short Term 12: A


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