‘Short Term’ takes engaging look at social workers

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, September 5, 2013 9:35am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

What plucky indie film will be this year’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild”? You know, the little movie that snags great reviews and a few Oscar nominations.

An early front-runner for that slot is “Short Term 12,” a thoroughly good-hearted and engagingly played drama. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton based his movie on his experiences working in a short-term care facility for displaced young people, and it’s got an accurate ring to its tiny details.

The film’s not about the troubled teenagers, but about the people who work at the place. Our main focus is Grace (Brie Larson), a veteran of this world, who has the firm-but-sympathetic approach down pat. So does her live-in partner, a sweet-natured guy named Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), who also works at the facility.

As they deal with their charges, we see scenes that cut deep — especially as concern a young woman (Kaitlyn Dever, from “Justified”) who can’t stop hurting herself, or a tormented young man (Keith Stanfield) who has only a week left before he leaves the home.

Mostly, Grace and Mason are sorting out their own issues, which include an unexpected pregnancy and longstanding baggage from their childhoods. Some of this is very effective, especially a wonderfully heartfelt sequence where we learn what Mason’s background was all about.

I enjoyed all of that — the movie’s got a terrific ending, too — yet for every sharp scene, there’s another that feels generic.

And I couldn’t shake the feeling that the various story arcs all worked out a little too neatly, especially when the movie comes at you as a slice of unvarnished life complete with queasy-making shaky camera to indicate its supposed authenticity. Surely the use of a tripod during certain moments would not disqualify it from telling the truth?

Still, when the movie’s good, it’s touching. And much of that comes from a superb performance by Brie Larson, a soulful but no-nonsense actress (she’s also in “The Spectacular Now” at the moment).

The details of Grace’s history are from a standard playbook, but Larson makes this person come to immediate, transparent life.

“Short Term 12” HH ½

Indie look inside a short-term care facility for displaced young people, although most of our attention goes to the folks who work there. Especially troubled is Grace (a superb Brie Larson), whose particular story arc is from the standard playbook and a little too neatly worked out—as is the movie itself, although individual scenes are truly touching.

Rated: R for language, subject matter.

Showing: Seven Gables.

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