An indie from Austin

short-term-12I’d heard rumblings about this great little film, something called Short Term 12 – but what a curious title. And what could I really expect of it? Having made its debut at SXSW instead of Sundance, it was one of this year’s slate of indies I wasn’t too terribly familiar with.

But little by little, more and more good buzz about this character-driven drama started to build, started to catch my attention. A lot of good comes out of Austin, so it’s no surprise that this movie was getting noticed.

I made plans over Labor Day Weekend to see several films, and while it took me three days to do it, I saw 4 films overall (Afternoon Delight, Drinking Buddies, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Short Term 12). This was the last on the list, and impressed me above and beyond the other three – all of which were great flicks in their own right.

Short Term 12 is the story of Grace, a young woman managing a short-term care facility for troubled teens. She works with another counselor who happens to be her live-in boyfriend and a young man who’s looking for this new job to rub off some of the sheen of his privileged-kid existence. Together they serve a class of kids who’ve been through more in their short lives than anyone should have to endure, and they serve them with patience and humor and an ability to communicate them that is probably only possible between teens and the young adults who weren’t too long ago themselves at that awkward age.

But what could just be a sad, flat tale of kids down on their luck is instead a dynamic, layered story of each of these lives, how they interconnect and how they ultimately rely on each other to make it through each day. Deftly balancing time in the center with glimpses of Grace’s life outside of it, the story is universal even if you’ve never worked in social services.

The cast of relative unknowns turn in award-worthy performances, and with a little bit of research it’s clear at least a couple of them aren’t the overnight successes this film might turn them into. Brie Larson also appears in the spectacular The Spectacular Now (though in a much different, much smaller role), and her on-screen love John Gallagher, Jr. created the role of Moritz on Broadway’s Spring Awakening a few years ago.

I noticed a lot in the film that had I not been currently reading books breaking down the science of screenwriting, might’ve otherwise been left unseen. Lots of elements that the books say will work really did work in the course of the story – the mirror image of the beginning and ending scenes, the “whiff of death” dramatic tension two-thirds of the way through – these elements that risk a formulaic experience for the moviegoer work flawlessly for writer/director Destin Cretin.

Little by little, this little film is gaining national traction and rolling out into more and more theaters. If you see that it’s by you, go see it. You’ll be glad you did.