“Short Term 12' is a sly wonder of a film. It brings you into its unique world and then slowly reveals its characters, letting them unfold gradually, organically.
That world is Short Term 12, a group home for older kids who've been abandoned, abused or just generally worked over by life. The place is managed by a staff of twentysomethings who aren't all that much older than their charges.
The film revolves around Grace (Brie Larson, a revelation), a staff member at the home who's living with co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). They each have their reasons for working there, which become clear as the film progresses.
The kids they're in charge of are inevitably damaged. There's Sammy (Alex Calloway), separated from his sisters and constantly threatening to run away; Luis (Kevin Hernandez), a mouthy competitor; and Marcus (Keith Stanfield), the bright-but-introverted son of an abusive prostitute who is about to turn 18, at which point he will have to leave the home.
Enter Jayden (a razor-sharp Katlyn Dever), whose father only wants her when he wants her. Resentful and potentially violent, she reminds Grace of herself, triggering a series of revelations.
All this may sound dreary, but it's not. Writer-director Destin Cretton lets the kids and the workers bounce off one another, and Grace and Mason have a playful optimism that's both infectious and endearing. We realize early on that ghosts haunt Grace, and that haunting comes calling eventually, but it's also obvious she's strong and loves her work.
This is Cretton's first feature and it promises great things to come -- from him, Larson, Gallagher, Dever, across the board. “Short Term 12' is brimming with long term talent.