“De-escalate my asshole, you dumb fuckers!” yells the writhing boy as his youthful captors wrap him in their arms, attempting to console him. It’s a moment that’s brutal, strangely beautiful and indelible—this wiry redhead has attempted to escape from the foster-care facility where he lives, and in his piercing defiance of the staff, he’s also appropriated and twisted their language. In its own way, Short Term 12 likewise twists the language and expectations of its genre. Centering on a young woman named Grace (played with remarkable sympathy by Brie Larson) who works with troubled teens, Destin Daniel Cretton’s film could easily become an issue drama about the myriad injustices wrought upon children. And while it does hit some of the expected beats in its gradual reveal of Grace’s backstory, Short Term 12 is more of a mood piece—and an exquisitely, tenderly crafted one at that—than a Lifetime drama. Cretton, who worked in a similar facility after college, is less interested in drawing broad thematic strokes than he is in capturing the quiet interactions and the unexpected explosions, the menial drone of this sort of work and its often invasive nature. Grace’s boyfriend describes her mind as both peculiar and gorgeous. The same could be said of Short Term 12.
Critic’s Grade: A-SEE IT: Short Term 12 is rated R. It plays at Fox Tower.