Short Term 12

Mason (John Gallagher Jr., HBO's 'The Newsroom') likes to tell newbie line workers at their facility for at-risk teens the infamous story of how his supervisor Grace (Brie Larson, "The Spectacular Now”) gave him 'gate duty' on his first day only to be helpless when the biggest, baddest kid in their teen center walked right past. It has an embarrassingly comical ending when Mason tells it, but the reality is a lot more tragic. Mason will learn first hand how much Grace, now his fiancee, has gone through when she sees herself reflected in the latest kid, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever, "The Spectacular Now"), to be admitted to "Short Term 12."

Laura's Review: A-

Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton adapts his 2009 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Jury Prize winning short to feature length and delivers the type of outstanding independent work the festival used to be known for back in the day. Featuring a big breakout performance from Brie Larson (we're talking potential Best Actress nomination potential), this film uses humor, sensitivity and counseling insights to present difficult subject matter with hope for the future. When her boss Jack (Frantz Turner) informs Grace that a friend of a friend's daughter will be joining them, he asks her to keep an eye out and Jayden immediately makes a negative impression on both the other kids and returns Grace's reaching out gestures with attitude. Grace is a dynamo, unrelenting in her love and support for the kids in her care. She and Mason have a beautiful relationship they keep under wraps at work, although most know anyway. Their shared in jokes and sense of humor helps cut through the daily tensions of their jobs. But there's always something a little held back about Grace, who travels to work separately on her bike, and we can see this troubles Mason who jokingly refers to her bike as his rival. When Grace discovers she's pregnant, she immediately makes an appointment to terminate and doesn't confide in the father. Her wall goes up even higher when Mason takes a call and tells her her own father's getting out of prison in a week. Cretton packs a whole lot more into 96 minutes, but it never feels rushed, each action and conversation propelling the story forward. And he uses stories within his story as means of confessions - Grace tells Jayden more personal history than she should and is rewarded with the children's tale about an octopus and a shark Jayden has written that tells Grace everything she needs to know; Mason tries to deal with Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a seventeen year-old dreading his upcoming birthday release whose lost his confidant in a fish called Nas, and gets invited to partake in revelatory rap. The legalities of foster care and the limitations of the line staff (who are not the kids' therapists) are worked in organically - new guy Nate (Rami Malek, "The Master") turns a serendipitous find into a surreptitious act of kindness while Grace puts not only her job but her personal freedom on the line. We also see how children of abuse often naturally fall into jobs helping others like them, not only in Grace's case, but in Mason's, who, along with a houseful of others, celebrates the wedding anniversary of the Latino couple who made such a difference as foster parents. The digitally shot film has a washed out look which oddly suits the material - these kids and the people who help them are not about fancy clothes or nice living arrangements, but tough love and compassion and the creativity which allows unspeakable truths to be expressed. There is joy in the simple chanting and clapping game of Big Booty or the crafting of birthday cards for someone who's experienced bitter disappointment and none of this needs visual embellishment. Larson, who just won the Best Actress award at the Locarno Film Festival for this role, creates the kind of character who has compassion for everyone but herself, frustrating the one she cares about the most and Gallagher Jr. is unrecognizable here from his Sorkin-spouting character on 'Newsroom,' in another breakout bit of acting. The entire cast, including newcomer Alex Calloway, comes together under Cretton's direction to immerse us in this heartbreaking yet hopeful world. "Short Term 12" is a small yet significant miracle.

Robin's Review: C defines bland as: “not irritating or stimulating; having little or no distinctive flavor.” This definition applies to “Shopgirl.” Transplanted Euro director Anand Tucker (“Hilary and Jackie”) takes Steve Martin’s adapted screenplay (from his novella) and tells the story of three lonely people. This romantic triangle has Mirabelle, a budding artist who plies her work, alone, by night and waits on the occasional customer at her isolate counter by day, is the target of affection for oddball Jeremy. He has little by way of ambition and spends his days in a go-nowhere job selling Holydog amplifiers. His real passion is to develop a unique font for his hobby, graphics. Their romance ends before it has a chance to begin. Ray Porter buys a pair of expensive gloves from Mirabelle then has them delivered to her doorstep with an invitation to dinner. She accepts and it looks like this might just be the fairytale relationship she has dreamed of. For Ray, though, it is a temporary interlude to occupy his time and bed. When he confesses to Mirabelle that he slept with someone else and “thought that it would be all right,” she is crushed and turns to despair and to her art. Things turn out okay when newly cleaned up Jeremy returns and Mirabelle gets the love she deserves. My problem with “Shopgirl” is that none of the three principles even remotely grabbed my interest. The blandness that I brought up earlier permeates these characters that fail to evince even a modicum of empathy from me. I suppose that the lives of three obviously lonely people, especially in a romantic context, might appeal to some but not to me. Mirabelle, who, we find out quite a ways into the film, suffers from depression, came to LA to find her artistic fortune. She left her Vermont home where her father (Sam Bottoms), a Vietnam veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and her mother (Frances Conroy) prays for things to be better. The 20-something wannabe artist is a romantic at heart and expects to find her Prince Charming somewhere in her new California hometown. She isn’t prepared for the loneliness in a city of such hustle and bustle as Los Angeles. In fairytale manner she meets a frog that will become here prince and a prince who turns out to be a frog. Their story, though, does not rise above the shallowness of its characters. The actors, even the author, Steve Martin, cannot breathe believable life into their lonely characters. It’s sad testament that Sam Bottoms, in what is only a cameo role as Mirabelle’s troubled dad, is more fleshed out than the leads. Production is true Hollywood. Mirabelle, a struggling clerk who can only afford to pay about $43/month on her huge college loan, has a wardrobe that is to die for. Production notes state that the actress undergoes some 96 costume changes and this fact detracts from any sense of reality. Set design of Mirabelle and Jeremy’s working class apartment buildings is handsomely handled by William Arnold looking suitably tacky. Roy Porter’s lap of luxury digs, in LA and Seattle, also fit the bill. Veteran lenser Peter Suschitzky does an expert job in giving a fairytale look to the proceeds. One should care about the characters seen in a film, especially in a romance. Helmer Tucker and scribe Martin fail to do this and the result is something that is “not irritating or stimulating; having little or no distinctive flavor.” “Shopgirl” may appeal to the femme viewer but it is wasted on me.