I always aspired to be a child prodigy. It seemed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing at a preternaturally young age. Throughout my early years I tried hard to live up to these pretentions: in grade school, I attempted to write several novels (they all involved genetically-engineered dinosaurs and hubristic theme-park owners unable to contain them); at seventeen, I sent spec screenplays to Hollywood studios (my great accomplishment: receiving a rejection letter on official 20th Century Fox letterhead, signed by Batman Forever writer Akiva Goldsman). My ambitions, however, were grander than my talents. Or perhaps grander than my commitment to seeing them through. And your new film, Short Term 12, proves that you're a bit more committed to your ambitions than I was.
Short Term 12 reeks of youth. It's a movie about young people, starring young people, made by young people. And while, in most cases, such abundance of youthful talent and enthusiasm is anathema to this aging hipster's increasingly world-weary aesthetic, I found myself deeply moved by it. Moved, I suppose, the way a young person might be moved by a piece of art; willingly, unconditionally.
Sure, at times it feels a little too perfect. One can see where the edges of the plot are worn down from too much polish. Too perfect, perhaps, but never too precious. And never precocious. Which is a profound accomplishment for a movie about at-risk teenagers and the noble twenty-somethings who look after them.
Much of this emotional credibility comes from the performances. Brie Larson (24), who plays the head counsellor at the foster care facility from which the movie takes its title, stalks through her scenes with a matronly weight on her shoulders. She's slow, dignified, and simultaneously twitchy, self-conscious; a duality that lays bare everything you need to know about her character before it's revealed through the machinations of the narrative. Kaitlyn Dever (16), who plays one of the facility's troubled teenage residents, performs with all the annoying tics and sneers of a teenage girl without ever making her character annoying--the sort of trick only a veteran actress can pull off (she's been performing in front of cameras since the age of nine). Keith Stanfield (22), as another resident, rhymes with more flow than Kanye (36) and more depth of feeling than Drake (26).
But here's the thing, Destin: you're not as young as I thought.
Of the empirical data I'd absorbed about Short Term 12 before walking into the theater - most of it by absorbed by accident from the sidebar marginalia of online articles and overheard in podcasted ramblings during my bike ride to work - the number 22 for some reason stuck in my head. Through some erroneous subconscious association, I assumed it was your age. But it's not (twenty-two is the running time, in minutes, of the short film Short Term 12 was based on). You are, in fact, thirty-four years-old. The same age as I am.
So, what does that say about my sense of your film being fuelled by crude, unfiltered, uncynical youth-energy? I suppose it means that the audaciousness associated with younger artists isn't exclusive to them; that maybe even dudes like us - who, burdened by the encumbrances of age (accumulated knowledge of how the world really works and an intense envy of those ignorant of it) - are still capable of possessing (and expressing) a worldview that is real and relevant and sometimes dark but still, somehow, idealistic.
I suppose it means that you don't have to be young to make prodigious art.