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Movie review: ‘Short Term 12’

Posted 5:23pm on Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013

R (strong language, brief sexuality); 96 min.

Short Term 12 is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate.

Named for the foster care group home for children under 18 where it’s set, Short Term 12 is anchored by the generous and persuasive acting of Brie Larson as a staff supervisor. Much to the credit of writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose two years of post-college work in a similar facility are key to the film’s verisimilitude, Short Term 12 also took the audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival and South by Southwest, where it received the narrative feature prize as well.

Short Term 12 opens with twentysomething staffer Mason (an excellent John Gallagher Jr. of The Newsroom) telling new hire Nate (Rami Malek) a long story about something that happened to him on the job, a scene that showcases Mason’s easygoing nature and genuine empathy.

It’s a quality Mason has to call on before he can even finish the story, as young Sammy (Alex Calloway) makes a hell-for-leather break.

Helping Mason run Sammy down is Grace (Larson), the line staff supervisor. Also in her 20s, she is the even-handed calm at the center of the perennial storm that circles around troubled kids.

Though the kids don’t know it, Grace and Mason are also a caring, loving couple in their private life, sharing an apartment together in secret.

Given equal weight with what happens between the staff and these kids is what happens between Grace and Mason, a nuanced relationship that gets increasingly complex as different, unexpected aspects of their backgrounds get revealed. So many difficulties need to be surmounted in Short Term 12 that any respite that can be achieved feels so much sweeter for the struggle that went into it. Sharing pain is the most difficult thing, but it also turns out to be the only thing that makes life bearable.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

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