Short Term 12 *** (R) The setting for this quiet little drama is a county home for kids with problems. Although the facility has some professionals on staff, daily supervision comes from a handful of twentysomethings with more laudable intentions than training or credentials. Brie Larson stars as the leader of that group. She has a fine temperament and considerable savvy about her charges and how to deal with their problems. Some of that ability to relate comes from similarities to her own issues and historical scars.
The script focuses mainly on a few of the kids and the non-work relationship between Larson and her beau (John Gallagher, Jr.), who is the de facto #2 on the crew. He’s also the yin to her yang in dealing with the residents, generally approaching his work with a more playful approach. They’re both good at their jobs, but troubled as a couple.
The film stands as an impressively understated feature debut for writer/director Destin Cretton, crafting characters and situations worthy of our empathy. Fine ensemble acting helps keep the proceedings on a suitable emotional plane, neither pandering to the heartstrings, nor copping out with easy feelgood solutions. A number of one-on-one moments between the young adults and the kids they care for work quite effectively in terms of both tone and substance. (9/13/13)