Film Review: SHORT TERM 12 (directed by Destin Daniel Cretton)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on August 17, 2013

in Film


I’m sure Short Term 12, written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, was an earnest effort made with care and love and all the best intentions. I’m sure Mr. Cretton was touched by the subject matter – at-risk teens in a group home and the 20-somethings who supervise them – just as I’m sure a great deal of work, faith and sacrifice went into making this low-budget indie narrative. Yet the end result feels disingenuous, in the way that afterschool specials and issue-driven Lifetime movies feel disingenuous, utterly devoid of humor or irony and stuffed with clichés and syrupy sentimentality (sexual abuse is as far as Mr. Cretton’s imagination appears to be able to carry him concerning why girls and women have emotional problems). The characters are so insubstantial they feel translucent; only the performers’ fine portrayals keep them from blending in with the furniture; although all the acting is commendable, a very natural and sincere John Gallagher Jr. stands out. We get no meaningful insights into these personages or into the system they are a part of, and the glimpses we do steal are so superficial they border on patronizing. Mr. Cretton’s lack of anything interesting to say on his chosen subject is all the more remarkable considering that his inspiration for this film appears to have been his experience working in such a home for two years after graduating college.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinea film review of SHORT TERM 12

There’s no lack of professionalism in Short Term 12. Mr. Cretton appears to know what he’s doing when it comes to the craft of filmmaking: the story is clear, the actors do what they’re supposed to, the film has a consistent look and feel, and one never gets the sense that its artistic elements suffer for lack of funds. The failing here, as it is with most bad American films, isn’t a lack of skill, it’s a lack of taste. This deficiency, though still vexing, is more understandable when it comes to big-budget Hollywood movies, which cater to the lowest common denominator out of what conventional wisdom dictates is financial necessity. But with a small, independent film, one would hope that more attention would be paid to artistic truth. Sadly, there is little of that in Short Term 12, which feels less like a cinematic work made with passion to stand on its own and more like a resume created to try and get a directing gig with the Disney Channel.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinea film review of SHORT TERM 12

photos courtesy of Short Term Film

Short Term 12
Animal Kingdom, Traction Media
presented by Cinedigm
USA / 2013
no rating / 96 min.
playing the film festival circuit
opens theatrically in NY & LA on August 23, 2013
with a national rollout to follow

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