Brie Larson, 23, gives a performance in new indie Short Term 12 that's wonderfully nuanced. The Oscars should keep her in mind.
In Short Term 12, out in theaters right now, Larson plays Grace, a supervisor at a home for at-risk teens. Grace is a complicated human being. She's a fierce advocate for the kids in her care, taking a no-nonsense approach to governing Short Term 12's halls. She's doesn't tolerate cursing, but will blast a water-gun at a kid who won't get out of bed. But she's no unequivocal hero. In many ways she's just as broken as the young people she deals with, even though she is in a loving relationship with a fellow employee (John Gallagher Jr.).
Grace's personal problems—revealed toward the end of the film—could easily be the stuff of a corny Lifetime movie. And yet Larson's Grace is brimming with real humanity. Part of that is owed to writer-director Destin Cretton's guidance. The subject of the film could so easily veer into melodrama—these are kids who have been ripped from their families, who have been beaten and abandoned—but Cretton avoids anything treacly or predictable. The movie might make you cry, but you won't feel manipulated.
The rest of the credit goes to Larson, who captures all of Grace's paradoxes exquisitely. She radiates strength, even when you see her weaknesses. Grace becomes particularly attached to one girl, Jayden, whom she sees as a kindred spirit. When Grace feels Jayden is being mistreated, she rages, her eyes bugging out. And yet Larson makes it believable that this woman can also have the calm and wherewithal to save a person's life.
She's getting deserved praise for her work. Marlow Stern at The Daily Beast notes that Larson gives "the best female performance so far this year"—yes, that's including Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. Awards blogger Sasha Stone writes that Larson "will probably capture enough hearts to break through" come Oscar season. 'The thing of it is, Larson’s is the kind of performance that stands out because you care about her, you care what happens to her," Stone explains.
Though certainly having a breakthrough moment, Larson is hardly a newcomer to the world of entertainment. She spent 2009-2011 as a regular on Showtime's The United States of Tara and her first IMDb credit is an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno all the way back in 1998. She even attempted life as a teen pop star, releasing an album called Finally Out of P.E. in 2005. More recently, she was in 2012's 21 Jump Street and you can currently see her opposite Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in the acclaimed indie The Spectacular Now. That said, Short Term 12 is her first true lead role. The film has already gotten its fair share of attention. It won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW and Larson herself took home best actress at the Locarno Film Festival.
Of course she'll have tough competition as fall movie season kicks into gear. Larson will go up against Sandra Bullock lost in space in Gravity, Julia Roberts fighting with her mom (Meryl Streep, no less) in August: Osage County, and Judi Dench as a woman searching for her long lost son in Philomena. (That said, you'll note when looking for our fall movie preview that the upcoming season at least feels very male.)
Winning Oscars takes a lot campaigning, especially if your movie is an indie film opening in August. Though Larson has expressed reticence at playing the Hollywood game—she told Vogue that she doesn't "care to participate in certain aspects of this social media or press world"—here's hoping someone takes up her cause. The performance deserves attention, in glittery award form or otherwise. She's that good.