Movies: "Short Term 12" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Short Term 12"
Movies: "Short Term 12"

Snuggled into the cineplex opposite such monster hits as “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” is this small slice of reality, written and directed by 30-year old filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton (“I Am Not a Hipster”).

See it if you can.

Cretton took a job at a center for troubled teenagers while in film school in California, and stayed on for two years.  That experience led to a short film that won big at Sundance in 2009, and is now a feature-length movie starring Brie Larson (Kate in “The United States of Tara”) and featuring a host of young actors from current or former TV series and movies.


Larson plays Grace, a young woman in nominal charge of a halfway house, overseeing about a dozen or so kids and a handful of staffers, and worrying about her supposedly secret relationship with fellow employee Mason (John Gallagher Jr. of “Pieces of April”).  Grace’s own personal baggage comes into play with the arrival of a particularly difficult teenager, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever, Loretta in “Justified”).


Jayden has a big impact on many of the other kids, including Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an African-American with a horrific past, as well as staffers Nate (Rami Malek of “The Master”), Jessica (Stephanie Beatriz, currently in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) and the shelter’s director, Jack (Frantz Turner).  


But it is Grace who perceives that Jayden’s family life mirrors her own wounded past, and steps way over the line to help her.


Cretton’s sensitive screenplay captures authentic-sounding dialogue and believable situations, and is ably abetted by Brett Pawlak’s camera work.  Brie Larson’s Grace is utterly winning as the conflicted caregiver, and John Gallagher Jr. is sweet and vulnerable as her love interest.  Kaitlyn Dever’s guarded, tormented Jayden is also compelling.


Obviously, this is strong stuff, which is why the movie is rated R for language and adult situations.  


This is not some mawkish psychodrama, but rather an honest, touching and often humorous look at a group of young people in desperate need of support.  They’re a lot closer to home than just your local movie screen.


I give it a B-Plus.