Originally published on March 26. Short Term 12 is in theaters today.
Short Term 12 , written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, was hands down one of my favorite films I saw at SXSW. The film follows Grace (Brie Larson), a young staffer at a group home who alongside her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) care for the group--ranging from children to young adults--at the home. While they aren't meant to serve as therapists, merely staffers to make sure the residents don't harm themselves, their connections through shared moments indicate much deeper bonds.
When Grace discovers she's pregnant along with a bond with new resident, Jayden (Kaitlyn Devers) more of her own past spills forth and she must cope with it all over again. Short Term 12 deals with subject matter that could be sensationalized, but Cretton handles it with subtlety, never exploiting the characters for dramatic gain. Larson is tremendous as Grace, playing her with a balance of stillness and strength. And she's supported by an amazing ensemble cast without which the realism of the film would not be felt.
Women and Hollywood spoke with Larson about Short Term 12, which won the Grand Jury Narrative Prize at SXSW. Larson has had a busy SXSW with roles also in The Spectacular Now and Don Jon. She also wrote and directed, Weighting, a surrealistic short about the end of a relationship.
Women and Hollywood: I really loved the film and you were so great in it. I was wondering what drew you to the project in the first place? How did you decide that this was something that you wanted to do?
Brie Larson: I was given the script while I was in Georgia, working on The Spectacular Now. I was sent the script because it was getting kind of close and there was a shuffle and the role was open. I read the script and wanted to do it so bad. It was one of the most beautifully written scripts and such a delicate and interesting character. I loved that it was not about talking, it was about learning how to talk, which is a hard thing to get across in a script. I just didn't actually believe that Destin would want, me, of all people to do it. I've never done something like this. I've never been the lead of anything. So, I was a little tentative about it. I didn't believe that I was going to get it. During that little bit of time, I ended up applying to a bunch of foster care places before talking with Destin.
By the time we spoke, I created this laundry list of all the stuff that I had done and all of the stuff that I was going to do to try and woo him. And it worked. There really wasn't an audition process, but we talked a lot. Movies for me are like philosophies. Each film has certain philosophical questions that I want to explore. Destin had the same sort of questions. We wanted to go on this journey together and it was the best experience.
WaH: I love that viewpoint of movies as philosophy. Is that a way that you approach picking your films?
BL: Yeah, it's finding for me a way that movies have a purpose. I don't deal well with being told what to wear and sit on a mark. It just feels like my soul is being ripped out. In this movie I really became interested in secrets. Any movie I've done, my character has had a secret. Whether it's in the movie or not, it is usually never is and it's usually not something I tell anybody. It is for me. But, I think every person has something that they are trying to get at it in a scene or want to save for themselves. And, that's what drives us to do things.
WaH: The diversity in the film is refreshing to see.
BL: It is so beautiful.
WaH: You don't often see that in film frequently anymore and it's so depressing.
BL: It's so depressing! And this is done in such a way that it's not like "Hey! Look! There are different kinds of people." It's just done like this is what life is. This is what you embrace. It was just really beautiful. It created such an interesting tone for all of us.
WaH: I'm really glad that you mentioned that. That was one of the things that really stood out for me about the film. It's a subject matter that, I feel like in the wrong hands could very easily turn into a one note caricature of what is actually happening.
BL: Yeah, poverty porn or something.
BL: We have the option of going into a movie with a bunch of money and say we are going to do a movie about how hard it is to struggle. Everyone can smell that stuff a mile away. You never pull the wool over anyone's eyes with that.