‘Short Term 12’ set in facility for troubled teens

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Short Term 12

The title of the quietly overwhelming new drama “Short Term 12” refers to an LA residential facility that houses troubled teenagers while they’re between court dates or foster homes. It’s a limbo, which has its challenges and benedictions both for the kids who pass through and the young staffers who work there.

Writer-director Dustin Cretton was one of those staffers once. In 2008 he poured his experiences into a short film of the same title, and it’s pretty near a perfect thing—a 21-minute drama that observes and aches but never judges. It won all sorts of festival awards and is available on iTunes; you should check it out. And then you should go see this new feature version, which is very, very good without being quite as perfect, in ways that reflect back on how and why we tell stories about our lives and our better intentions.

The central figure in “Short Term 12” version 2.0 is Grace (Brie Larson), the facility’s general manager. She has a cool head, a big heart, and she’s terrific at dealing with crises—one of those eerily capable givers who probably had to overcome some damage herself. “Short Term 12” folds us gently into its cinderblocked “safe environment,” introducing us to the rules that provide structure and to the adolescents who need them. What’s immediately disarming about the movie is that it focuses not on the kids’ dramas—and on the ways Hollywood tends to resolve them in time for the end credits—but on the low-key hum of daily interaction the facility provides. It’s a lovely, tough-minded film. If Cretton has had to pad a few things out for the feature version, the story’s honesty and humanity, not to mention its survivor’s wit, remains intact.

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