Destin Cretton Talks Short Term 12

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Winner of the Narrative Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 is a warm, generous drama about counselors and youth at a group home for troubled teens. A feature expansion of his 2009 short of the same name, winner of the Best Short Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Cretton’s new picture has a low-key authenticity — the writer/director worked himself in such a facility, and his experiences inspire some of the subplots here — as well as the classic values of good, character-based storytelling. (At the premiere’s post-screening Q&A, Cretton cited One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as an inspiration.)

The emotional theme is crisis — outward and inescapable in the young teenagers and submerged and suppressed in the counselors. Following up her notable supporting turn in James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, Brie Larson stars as Grace, a hip, casually authoritative counselor who, while unhesitating in doling out demerits for foulmouthed insolence, still fights the good fight — that is, for the human potential of her young residents and against the jaded mindset that affects her superiors. But a suicidal new intake, the imminent release of her own father from prison, and an unexpected pregnancy test send Grace to the edge of her own emotional breakdown. Needless to say, both patients and counselors impact each other for the better, but Short Term 12 steers clear of both sentimentality and melodrama while still hitting crowd-pleasing notes.

I spoke briefly with Cretton at SXSW about the origins of Short Term 12 and the character he’s most like in the movie.