Short Term 12 ★★★★½

The characters in this film are so well realized, so well grounded, that it’s difficult to come away with the sense that any one of them isn’t a real person. The emotions, sentiments, and relationships are all complicated and not at all superficial, which makes them both challenging and incredibly rewarding to experience.

Brie Larson, who hooked me as a fan back in The United States of Tara, shows us how ready she is to take on lead roles and deliver a thoroughly engaging character. John Gallagher Jr. also gets some room to breathe, and these two characters connect a with breadth and depth that never feels forced. We feel there’s real history here, but also some huge obstacles. Supported by a cast of soon-to-be-breakouts and relative unknowns, the performances are truly the heart of a film that becomes a case study in the best way to express complex thoughts and emotions with a balance levity and gravity.

The technical craft put into this film is equally grounded, with beautiful handheld cinematography composed in natural light and a wonderful acoustic soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates the film’s sentiments. It’s all expertly directed, and easily an emotional standout of the past year.