DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

SHORT TERM 12 (director/writer: Destin Daniel Cretton; cinematographer: Brett Pawlak; editor: Nat Sanders; music: Joel P West; cast: Brie Larson (Grace), John Gallagher Jr. (Mason), Kaitlyn Dever (Jayden), Rami Malek (Nate), Keith Stanfield (Marcus), Kevin Hernandez (Luis), Melora Walters (Dr. Hendler), Alex Calloway (Sammy), Stephanie Beatriz (Jessica); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating:R; producers: Maren Olson/Asher Goldstein/Joshua Astrachan/Ron Najor; Cinedigm; 2013)

"Takes a good whack at exploring the difficulties in treating an at-risk ward of short-term foster-care teenagers."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director-writer Destin Daniel Cretton ("I'm Not A Hipster"), who at one time worked at a similar halfway house facility as the one depicted in this film, takes a good whack at exploring the difficulties in treating an at-risk ward of short-term foster-care teenagers, in the GoldDerby facility, and for good measure throws in a romance story among co-workers. This modest depiction of the travails of working in such a facility, clues us in on the wide gulf between the older administrators and better educated therapists with the youthful and more passionate hands on child counselors and the thankless task of working with very difficult children. Though not entertaining, unnecessarily going bonkers to make some noise over a car smashing scene and largely dragging its feet during its middle part, it's nevertheless an emotionally endearing, sensitive, heart-felt and sincere dramatization that might have a predictable story but does not sugarcoat the problems encountered by the still not jaded committed twenty-ish counseling staff who try to do the right thing with damaged children who go through severe mood swings and are mired in their various challenging personal problems.

The dedicated counselor supervisory head, Grace (Brie Larson), is terrific relating to these troubled kids, offering her unconditional love to the mentally crippled youngsters under her charge and doing it with great professional skill while she has deal with the still lingering affects of her own child abuse. Grace artfully uses her own pain to bond with her pained charges while also dealing with her unwanted current pregnancy. For the last three years Grace has been seeing her equally dedicated kindhearted co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), but can't open up and trust the loving Mason to clue him in to what's still bothering her. The two mentor new counselor Nate (Rami Malek) and try to build-up his confidence as he navigates this rough terrain while gently reminding him his primary task is to provide a safe environment for the halfway house kids and leave the therapy for the professional therapists.

While the counseling staff must deal with tough cases like the African-American Marcus (Keith Stanfield), who’s about to turn 18 and is scared of leaving the facility to fend on his own, as the laconic youth communicates his pain through a rap song he composed about his mom; the physically and mentally fragile redheaded Sammy (Alex Calloway), who still plays with dolls, suffers from temper tantrums and repeatedly makes halfhearted escape attempts; and the hostile and difficult close-mouthed new patient Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) who is a cutter and has suffered similar secret hurts to Grace, which opens a chance for them to bond when she shares with Grace a children's story she wrote.

The pic is excellent in getting the ins and outs of institutional life and of showing how working with such damaged kids requires giving extra-dollops of love and knowing when to back off and when not to. The handling of the conflicted youth by the young staff gave the pic an authentic feel and made it feel like a remarkably perceptive pic. Its failing was in not trusting its viewers to run by them its story without being contrived to fit its agenda, as Grace's story and Jayden's story converge and like other narrative subplots seem too schematic and forced to make me a believer that everything here is gospel.

REVIEWED ON 9/28/2013       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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