In 2008 Destin Daniel Cretton made a short film called Short Term 12. Five years later he developed it into a feature of the same name, which despite being relatively unknown has garnered a huge amount of critical respect and praise (and a whopping 99% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s a beloved One Room With A View favourite, and one of my personal benchmarks for a five-star movie. Yet Short Term 12 isn’t only a beautiful self-contained film. In the four years since release, Cretton’s film has proved itself a bellwether for the future successes of its talented cast, with many who were relative or even complete unknowns back in 2013 now working to consistent acclaim. Short Term 12 provided an unparalleled springboard for several careers, including a little someone called Brie Larson.
Do you remember a time when you didn’t know who Brie Larson was? It was almost certainly before Short Term 12, as since then she’s been on a meteoric rise in profile via Room (the Oscar didn’t hurt), culminating in a coveted spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But Short Term 12 came first, where she was the crowning jewel to a group of incredible performances, inspiring our Spotlight feature, and landing her firmly on the radar of influential casting agents across Hollywood.
While she’s answered the call of the big guns (Warner Bros.’ Kong: Skull Island, upcoming Ms. Marvel duties), Larson has also remained committed to her roots in powerful character-led drama full of soul-rocking, authentic emotion. Expect more of this from Friday (October 6), when Cretton’s Short Term 12 followup The Glass Castle lands in UK cinemas. Larson’s leading role promises to once again leave hearts racing and eyes unblinking (because who would want to miss even a second?).
If Larson is Short Term 12’s valedictorian, then Lakeith Stanfield is her runner-up and a star very much on the rise. Within the temporary care home setting (from which the film derives its title) Stanfield played Marcus, a resident on the cusp of turning 18 and leaving the care system. With the physical poise and stillness that is now characteristic of his performances, Stanfield portrayed a young man continually fighting to keep his emotions in check, while expertly hinting at the turmoil simmering below the surface. In his rap music, also performed by Stanfield, Marcus finds an outlet.
Lakeith Stanfield may not have his name on everyone’s lips just yet, but this is a guy who’s played Snoop Dogg (Straight Outta Compton, 2015) and appeared in some of the most-discussed films of recent years, including Ava DuVernay’s Selma and, more recently, Get Out. His performance was an uncanny and unforgettable anachronism in that film, but he showed his versatility with the two distinct films he took to the Sundance Film Festival this year: Brooklyn youth dramedy The Incredible Jessica James and kinda-biopic Crown Heights, which have been snapped up by Netflix and Amazon respectively.
In the former, Stanfield has a smallish role as the ex-boyfriend of the leading personality (Jessica Williams, another supremely talented actor we’ll hopefully be seeing more of), but his part in Crown Heights is far weightier in all respects. The fact-based drama tells the story of Colin Warner, a black man wrongfully imprisoned and denied justice for decades. Stanfield’s involvement in the project seems a natural fit given his previous roles in films which also portray or investigate versions of the African-American experience.
The next descendant from the Short Term 12 cradle is Rami Malek, now of Mr. Robot fame. Despite a long career before working with Cretton, it was only after Short Term 12 that Malek was able to snag a leading role that makes expert use of his talent. Who wouldn’t want Short Term 12 on their showreel? Malek’s somewhat paradigmatic character – a naïve new staff member who has enjoyed a much more sheltered upbringing than the children he’s working with – seems a fitting allegory for his then-position on the brink of “making it big”.
Cretton, who wrote both the short and feature based on his own experience of working in such environments, has spoken about basing Malek’s character upon himself. Perhaps this, in combination with Malek’s ability with socially awkward characters who find themselves out of their depth, is what enabled such articulacy in a character that could have been pat and perfunctory.
Beyond the big-hitters, Kaitlyn Dever, who was just a teenager at the time, played a role of pivotal importance to Short Term 12’s narrative shape as Jayden, the care resident who forms a close bond with Grace (Larson). A year later, she was one of the best things about Jason Reitman’s fall from greatness, Men, Women & Children. Perhaps in four years’ time we’ll be celebrating the myriad achievements of The Glass Castle’s young cast. Here’s hoping. With Cretton’s – not to mention Larson’s – evident skill for working with young people, it doesn’t seem too pie-in-the-sky.