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Brie Larson (right) and Kaitlyn Dever in "Short Term 12."

INDIEWATCH: ‘Short Term 12’ leaves lasting impression

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In “Short Term 12,” Grace (Brie Larson) supervises the wards and staff at a home for troubled teens alongside her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). She tells a staff newbie that the kids will try to test him at first to see what they can get away with, as she walks into a teen’s room to wake him with a water gun.

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“You’re not their parent, you’re not their therapist, you’re here to create a safe environment and that’s it,” she says.

Grace, Mason and the staff play games with the kids and plan parties for teens, who are aging out. Grace seems to be the rock of the crew, as she addressed hardships with … well, grace.

During a community meeting, staff newbie Nate (Rami Malek) says he always wanted to work with underprivileged kids. This sets off Marcus (Lakeith Lee Stanfield), the oldest teen in the home. He gives Nate a death look and verbally attacks him, and I was worried there’d be a fight, but Grace manages to defuse the situation by sending Marcus to his room. Later, she manages to break up a physical altercation between Marcus and another teen. Afterward, Marcus is confrontational and aggressive, and Grace inherently knows where to switch tones and how to soothe with just enough authority.

Her knack for dealing with these teens stems from her personal experience as one of them, but Grace begins to unravel when a teen, who may have a similar past, enters the group home.

There’s a lot of hardship in this film, and it cuts deeper because it involves kids with abusive histories, but writer/director Destin Cretton balances this with light-hearted humor.

The staff carefully holds a teen’s arms during a semi-violent rage, where she shoves a birthday cupcake into Grace’s face. As Jaden “de-escalates,” Mason lightly asks Grace how the cupcake tastes. As a viewer, you’re thankful for a tiny comedic reprieve that manages to keep you in the moment.

The performances definitely make this film. Brie Larson plays Grace subdued with a wealth of pain and emotion stirring beneath. (I’ve never seen her act so well.) John Gallagher Jr. is the perfect counterpart to her solemn demeanor as her animated partner with his own difficult past. And the child actors were just spot on.

“Short Term 12” arrested my attention from the first frame, and the ending had me ugly-crying at a level on par with “Life is Beautiful.”

It’s so worth a watch.

Grade: A

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

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Melinda Lavine
(701) 780-1265
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