Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thanks. They're actually very informative.

I ran. At the time, I felt like I had no other choice.

I turned my back on a building full of crazy kids, put my head down, and ran. Fast. And for a while it felt good. Real good. But just last week, I got caught. And now they're hauling me back inside. In the nearly ten months since I made my move, I was free. No inherent sadness, no teen desperation. No messed up kids. But here I am again, being led back to a place I thought I'd escaped.

I'm teaching middle school. 


I'm not sure if you're ready for Short Term 12. I know I wasn't. Repeatedly mentioned by the awesome and insightful Brittani over at Rambling Film, I knew I had to see it. And while it's not at all about middle school English, or even school at really, it is about some of those kids I've taught over the years. It's powerful, it's intense and it tapped into every single feeling I've experienced working with 'underprivileged kids'  for the better part of a decade. In short, you'll smile, you'll laugh, but you may never want to experience it again.

Presented in a very drab, very unspectacular way, deliberately of course, Short Term 12 tells the story of what it's like working in a halfway house for troubled youth. It opens with Mason (a charming John Gallagher, Jr.), a goofily handsome counselor happily telling the story of when he shit his pants following a kid who fled the premises. And in under two minutes, this movie had me. Done. Because in that quick scene, I saw the perverse joy and satisfaction that comes from something awful happening to you in a low-pay, high stress job, where literally, you're covered in shit. People don't give their lives to 'horrible' jobs like this because they want to, it's because they have to. They have to help these kids.

From there, a fascinating look into not only the kids' problems, but the adults that help them, unfolds. Though maybe unravels is the better term. Mason is (shhh!) dating Grace (the sullenly captivating Brie Larson), the proxy mom to the residents of Short Term 12. And while the kids love her, as does Mason, something is holding her back in a big way. Along comes Jayden, a young lady perhaps reminding Grace of herself, to set off a chain of events that have damn near everything spiraling out of control. I'm not shitting you to say that there was a moment where I honestly couldn't breathe. And I thought my wife was going to have a cardiac event. Anyway, eventually Jayden disappears, but perhaps unsurprisingly, that's what it might take for Grace to find herself.

Speaking of troubled youth no one would chase after, here are the Yays and Boos. I'll tell you right now, had I watched this alone, there would've been none of either, as my notepad would have been so waterlogged (tears? sweat? both?) it would have been impossible to decipher any of it. Good thing my wife was there (and awake).

That fish isn't going to die a horrible death. I promise.
And there's no evidence on this site to suggest otherwise either.
  • Super Soakers. Probably the best alarm clock ever.
  • Grace and Mason are kind of like a bizarro Jim and Pam. Just waaaaay more f--ked up.
  • Nate, the new guy. I actually worshiped him in this movie because if he's around, everything is going to be okay.
  • Self-portrait battle! Why haven't I done this? Why aren't we doing this right now? Ready? GO!
  • Scientific wiener posters. These are so cool, I might hang some up at my house.
  • Marcus, played by Keith Stanfield. This dude is the truth. No doubt in my mind.
  • And his rhymes? Intense as f--k. I sat wide-eyed when he dropped that verse.
  • But man, when he demands the kids bust out the crayons and markers? I felt that even more.
  • I don't want to spoil anything, but the party that Mason goes to was fantastic. Such a sweet speech, too.
  • And that wasn't his only great speech. The one he makes to Grace was unbelievable, too. So was her response: I've already made the appointment.
  • If we're going to start the movie with a story about shitting in your pants, might as well end it in similar fashion, right? In what could be one of my favorite quotes ever, Mason says: It was so f--king cute I almost pissed my pants.
  • And finally, I dare you to find a movie where the performances feel more natural, more authentic than this one. The perfect actors reading the perfect lines. I felt like these people were not only real people I knew, but I really, really cared about them. Especially those (damn) kids.
So...this isn't going to end well.
  • Early on, I couldn't figure out Grace to save my life. And when she hit that one person?
  • Whiffle ball is a Yay. Always. Even if I'm striking out again. But when it takes that turn? I never wanted to see a yellow plastic bat again.
  • Okay. Grace has a secret, right? And it just hangs over every single f--king awful moment in this film. I had to look away at times, because I thought she was going to lose it.
  • Yay! They're engaged! But, Dad's getting out....so yeah, scratch that.
  • Nice going, Jack. Let her dad take her. I wished she had smashed his head, not just his f--king lamp.
  • This movie contains the BIGGEST FAKE OUT EVER. Even if they only let you believe it for a minute, I damn near fell into a deep depression I didn't think I was ever going to get out of. 
  • And finally, the ending...well, a few minutes before, actually. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. 
You know, I quit my job last fall in order to stay home with my own children, and the day after tomorrow, my daughter will turn one. And in a month, my son will turn five. As much as I'm dreading stepping back into the classroom (I really thought I was gone for good), there's a certain peace knowing that we've made it this far.
That, and the fact that my students will leave me at the end of the period. 

'Cause my two? They never left my side. Ever. At times, when things got out of control, I thought I might be headed to some sort of heavily monitored institution myself.



  1. As always, brilliant review! So you're going back to teaching? That's cool, right? ;-)

    I do love this movie...a lot. You're right though...there are moments...like that lamp scene...I wanted to literally kill someone.

    1. Thanks, man. I am certainly going back. Not certain whether it's cool or not.

      I really, really loved this movie, I'm just not sure I want to see it again. It was taxing sitting there watching that shit unfold....helplessly. Ugh.

  2. Aw, thanks for the shout out! I absolutely love this film, even if it's almost exactly what I do day to day at work.

    That's cool you're going back to teaching! I hope your kids are amusing. I'd hope for them to be smart and insightful but it's middle school and we all know that doesn't happen.

    1. Hell yeah, Brit. Thanks for the recommendation.

      I have always respected what you do on your site, but if your career is anything like that movie, well, then. I'm not sure there are words. Well, other then Damn!

      I hope my kids are amusing, too. Smart and insightful? Maybe the girls. Eighth grade dudes? It's not our best times for insights, speaking as a former 8th grade dude myself.

  3. I have never heard of this movie but your review encouraged me to look it up, I'll have to give it a watch sometime. By the way, happy birthday to your daughter and good luck with the new teaching job.

    1. Thanks, Mike! I can't believe she's one!

      As for the flick, definitely give it a shot. It's intense and uncomfortable....but it's very, very good, too.

  4. Aww, happy birthday to your daughter!

    I heard so much good about this movie yet I still haven't seen it. But that 'can't breathe/cardiac arrest' moment has me all intrigued now!

    1. Thanks, Sati. She's a menace, but she's also the best thing ever.

      You gotta check it out. It's almost like The Hunt (minus your boyfriend, that is). It's so incredibly compelling, and at times, just awful to stomach. Oh, and we might have overreacted, but I'm telling you, we we're insanely invested in these fictional kids. It was nuts.

  5. Great review man, really happy you appreciated this one. The sound guy for my new flick, Wait, actually captured sound for Short Term 12, and he had a lot of interesting stories about the making of the film. The best was shooting Keith Stanfield's long rap. They had two cameras rolling, and they shot it just once. Why? Because, as you say, dude is the truth. No doubt.

    1. Thanks, AW. I totally got lost in this movie. Almost in over my head, I cared about those characters so much.

      As for your sound guy, that's really cool what he said about Keith. Clearly that dude works with legit individuals. Looking forward to your film, man...