ANGER MANAGEMENT: Grace (Brie Larson) soothes troubled teens as a supervisor at a foster-care facility.
City Paper grade: B+
At a low ebb in Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12, one of the group home’s residents carves “Why?” into her forearm with a ragged fingernail. That question bleeds through the whole movie, for the short-term foster care facility’s inhabitants as well at its staff. Although she’s in her early 20s, Grace (Brie Larson) feels like an old hand, calming rebellious teens as one might a raging toddler: with a mixture of discipline, understanding and even-tempered physical restraint. Cretton, whose background is split between fiction and documentary, and who worked in a similar facility himself, lets the confrontations play out without sensationalizing them or choosing sides; their understated grace reminds you that acting and behavioral psychology can be one and the same.
Short Term 12 zeroes in on Grace’s relationship with two patients — Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an older boy who’s terrified of aging out of the group home and into the adult world, and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), whose comparatively privileged background does little to salve her troubled relationship with her father. The dramatic revelations of precisely how they, and Grace, have been wounded by life are couched in indirect language rather than clumsy confessions, although Cretton’s script doesn’t avoid a certain clinical tidiness. You admire the construction that allows Grace’s casual remark to return as part of a pivotal disclosure, but it still feels contrived.
Although the cast, which also includes The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr. as Grace’s co-worker and romantic partner, is mostly made up of seasoned pros, their performances feel remarkably unstudied, though less in the manner of simple naturalism than a particularly fruitful acting workshop. It’s a thing of beauty, but you rarely forget it’s a thing.
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