Short Term 12 is a film about an halfway house for troubled teens and the workers who care for them. The main protagonist is Grace, who manages day-to-day life at the facility. At the beginning of the film, she tells a newly hired supervisor that their job is not to be a surrogate parent or friend, but to make sure that they provide a safe environment. But we see that Grace is something of a surrogate parent, friend and adviser to these kids. She can’t help it. And she’s damn good at it. We slowly learn that a big part of why she cares so much about these kids is because of her own painful history, and we realize the sad irony is that she’s so good at caring for them but pretty bad at taking care of herself and her own issues.
Grace has a boyfriend who also works at Short Term 12 and loves her unconditionally. (At one point she asks him why he is so nice to her and he tells her, “Well, it’s easy. It’s because you are the weirdest, most beautiful person that I’ve ever met in my whole entire life.” Swoon!) But he has a hard time understanding her demons and why she can’t take her own advice that she gives to the kids every day. Grace, along with other characters in the film, show us that love, both the giving and receiving of it, is not what we often think of it as. Love is something we learn, something we must practice, and love can be hard work. Self-love can be the hardest work there is. And when the people who are supposed to love you the most without question let you down or hurt you, you’re already starting from behind.
To miss the fundamental love that a child should be able to expect can sometimes mean never understanding what love really is; what it can do and how it can heal. Providing a safe environment for these kids doesn’t just mean ensuring that their basic needs for survival are met and that they can’t physically harm themselves or each other. The underlying service that Grace and the other workers provide is the kind of nurturing love that these kids have been missing.
We see this lesson in the story of Marcus, who is about to turn 18 and therefore must leave Short Term 12. He’s melancholy and apprehensive about it, and the rap he performs in the video below displays the pain he feels toward his mother and the residual affects of “living a life not knowing what a normal life’s like.”
And it’s shown again when the troubled Jayden, who reminds Grace of herself, tells a children’s story she created about an octopus and a shark that is basically a much darker telling of The Giving Tree.
So many parts of this movie were devastatingly sad, yet it managed to keep from veering off into a depressing viewing experience. Which is pretty impressive if you consider the subject matter.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. I think it might easily be the best movie I watch this year. It’s currently available on Netflix instant.