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In Short Term 12, actors Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. take on the roles of workers at a group foster care home for teens. The amazing Larson plays a young woman—appropriately named Grace—who loves her charges fiercely, fighting to break through to them even as she fights her own damaging life experiences. She’s been burying her feelings for a long time, which affects her current relationships. Jayden, a new resident who is cutting to cope with her emotional pain, brings Grace’s own pain surging back to the surface.

Grace’s boyfriend Mason (Gallagher), who also works at the group home, is himself a product of the foster care system. He pushes Grace to find a way to give expression to her feelings as they work to build a future together. In one scene, Mason pays beautiful tribute to his foster parents at their anniversary party, where dinner begins with sung prayer in Spanish.

The movie is gritty, heartbreaking, and lovely. Perhaps the most powerful moment occurs when Marcus, a young man about to age out of the system, shares a rap he has written with Mason. Mason sits next to him, accompanying him on a drum, while Marcus pours out his anger and pain at the mother who abused him, leaving Mason speechless.

The biggest failing of the movie is that it tries to present every “type” of kid who might be in a home like this. Also, I found the emotional climax of the movie a bit disjointed, as if the writers weren’t quite sure where to go with it. But those flaws are outweighed by the focus on the humanity of the situations: broken people who are looking for—and sometimes finding—love and grace.

It’s not a pretty movie, but it is beautiful. And it’s on disc now. (Cinedigm)

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