By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Elizabeth Olsen, Shailene Woodley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Felicity Jones, the gold standard, Jennifer Lawrence… Sure, TV and Hollywood 2nd-string actresses have been using acclaimed indies to springboard their careers for years and years, but it seems like we’re in the Golden Age of it right now, and the latest luminous lady to join their ranks is Brie Larson.
As opposed to Larson Brie, Minnesota’s finest French cheese brand
She stars in Short Term 12 as a counselor at a short term care facility for at-risk youth who is harboring some serious issues of her own. With a life changing circumstance on the way and the arrival of a teen whose problems hit a bit too close to home, can she hold it together, or will her life spiral out of control like her troubled charges?
It is tempting to label this a Brie Larson vehicle (and shit, I basically did that in the intro), but it’s much more than an acting showcase. That being said, damn there are some performances in this thing. Larson is spectacular and complex in a way we so seldomly see from female protagonists. She’s crazy but not ca-razy, embodying a young woman whose past isn’t the driving force of what she is so much as one important facet of a sad, funny, beautiful, loving, yet closed-down, but most importantly, real person.
Now, this is ca-razy
Why this film is hands down one of the best of the year is that all of the performances inhabit the same real world Larson’s does. Keith Stanfield (whose rap interlude is one of the finest musical moments this year) just is his character, Kaitlyn Dever, who you might recognize from Justified, is excellent, and John Gallagher, Jr. does a great job in his gender reversed role as the long-suffering, supportive to the point of sainthood partner. In fact, there wasn’t a performance that run even a touch false in the entire film.
First-time director Dustin Cretton drew from real-life experiences working at a short term care facility, but so do a lot of filmmakers. His (and that cast’s) greatest accomplishment, even above his sure-handed style and great eye, is spinning the material into something heart-breakingly realistic.
The product of their combined efforts is a film that is incredibly tense and emotional, but which earns their tension and emotion the hard way, by giving you characters to feel for so that you are invested in their struggles. It keeps hitting progressively stronger emotional marks in a way that never feels artificial. Live can get dark, but Short Term 12 never loses sight of the heart and hope that persist in that darkness.
Think Half Nelson as made by Ken Loach, with Brie Larson subbed for Ryan Gosling in a star-making role. Or something awesome like that.
Of course, Larson’s not quite as pretty…
Take a Drink: whenever the newbie gets challenged
Take a Drink: every time Larson clutches her hands
Take a Drink: whenever you hear the title
Do a Shot: Boom! Catharsis.