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8/27/13

Dude, Short Term 12 stars John Gallagher Jr. and is Awesome for That Amongst Other Things

As if we weren't saying it before - week after week while watching The Newsroom and the plethora of magazine photo shoots and mainstream press junkets/articles - but John Gallagher Jr.? 

We knew you back when.

A statement like that couldn't be more apropos after watching Short Term 12, which stars our beloved JGJ as Mason, one-half of the central couple tending to a foster care home. The movie, written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, already took the top slot as my favorite film I've seen this year. With a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and further distribution from its film festival-turned-NYC/LA limited release (it expands nationwide this upcoming weekend), the film's quality can't be denied. Watch it accumulate some word-of-mouth and award season buzz as we head into the Fall.

And just as its critical acclaim suggests, the film is as impeccable as you can find these days. I can only look so far as to nitpick minor details - the keyword being 'minor' - and even so, who cares? In fact, the minor critiques I would offer up would be praises of lesser faire - that's how well-rendered Short Term 12 is. 

As an aside, isn't it awesome when an independent film - with its, like, mere thousands of budget (if that) - dispels the notion that one needs a big budget and/or a big name cast/creative to make a quality movie? Like a kick to Hollywood's gonads and I am loving every second.

The film is more about her, "her" being Grace, Mason's girlfriend. The audience navigates a few days in the life at this foster care home as seen through her perspective mostly. She comes with plenty of baggage (an understatement, really), but she's the hardened veteran trying to coax the children brought in, whom wear their damage like signs around their necks, to communicate. And yet, she has all of her walls up in her personal relationships (as Mason calls her out on). Thankfully, Grace never becomes so self-involved to the point where she is insufferable - a combination of pitch-perfect writing and Brie Larson's amazing performance - that we continue to root for our internalizing, plucky heroine. Every time she makes a breakthrough with the, admittedly, well-acted children, it is a mini-celebration for all!

The camera work and stagnant dialogue in certain scenes are absolutely devastating in a "hang on every last word" sorta way, particularly, when Cretton frames his subjects with their side profile. The audience doesn't need to see their faces (or tears) to understand what the character's expressions are or what they are feeling. It is such a "common to the point of cliche" film trick to want to go all Les Miserables-style closeup when the waterworks start flowing (or are about to), but Short Term 12 subverted that entire trope and created a more subtle, resonant context.

But yeah, it was nice to see John Gallagher Jr. play co-pilot in a film of so much win. Not that I don't love him on The Newsroom - he's perfectly fine there as well - but that type of JGJ is more distilled and clean. All well and good - and if I were asked, its obviously great that he can play a variety of characters in more then one medium - but Short Term 12 is a callback as to why we fell in love with him in the first place and where his true appeal lies (something Broadway never failed to honor). Raw, charismatic, awkward, hairy (OH GAWD, so much hair)...but most importantly, endearing and relatable. His moments of comedic relief, including a lovely sight-gag of him cooking in funny hats, offset the more tense and overwhelming moments. The movie may be more about Grace, her troubled path and her interactions with the children, but Larson and Gallagher Jr.'s chemistry is eerily spot-on as well - their scenes burst from the seams with likeableness and both character's internal desire to finally get their happy ending.

I might be the only person even thinking in this dimension - not sorry - but watch Gallagher Jr. very closely as he tells his foster care "war stories" at the beginning and the end of the film. In your mind, edit in a british accent and set the scene in the suburbs of England. That's right…I can't unsee the allusion to Mark Rylance's nuanced, "draw you in" performance style as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. The fact that JGJ looks like he took a page from his former costar's book - deliberately or not, but I would bet on the former - is just genius given Rylance's pedigree as a performing powerhouse. And that got me thinking…JGJ as Rooster Byron in a revival of Jerusalem in 20 years, give or take? If I have five million dollars lying around (or ten million or something given 20 years of inflation) or if I have to push a wealthy relative down a flight of stairs or four, I'll fund that production myself - you just know JGJ would work his ass off to do that part justice.


Photo Credit: Short Term 12

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