Larson stars as Grace, a young supervisor who spends her days with at-risk teenagers in a foster care facility. Deeply passionate about both her work and her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), who works with her with the teens, her life suddenly starts to move in unexpected directions when Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a very bright but troubled teen, arrives at the group home. In Jayden, she sees something of herself that she’s kept bottled within her for years, and she is determined to do all she can to help her.
Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton has remarkable clarity with this project, penning such an original script; the world of group homes is not one familiar to the big screen, and it never feels anything less than authentic under his eye.
Gallagher, Jr., Dever, Rami Malek, and Keith Stanfield are all absolutely fantastic alongside Larson, making up an impressive supporting cast. Gallagher, Jr. is terrific as Mason, who also gives his all for these children as someone who had a troubled past himself, and was raised out of it by a family of foster parents, who in turn become parents to him in his own eyes.
For someone so young, Dever is exceptionally talented, well beyond her years, and it is her and Stanfield’s performances that really help to craft the feeling of authenticity here. You expect strong performances from adults, which Larson and Gallagher, Jr. deliver, in particular. But when half of your cast eighteen or under, it’s that much more important for them to give stand-out performances, and Dever and Stanfield really deliver. Lending his talents as a writer/artist, Stanfield brings so much life to Marcus as the oldest resident in the home, who is about to turn eighteen and therefore have to leave the security that it has offered him. And the chemistry that Dever and Larson share as like-minded young women is electrifying.
A rollercoaster of emotions, bringing so much passion, energy, and creativity to the screen, Short Term 12 is absolutely a must-see film of the year. It takes us on an emotional journey, offering insight into a world rarely seen in mainstream media, and it establishes Larson in particular as one to watch as a leading actress in the years to come. She has shown in the past that she is outstanding as part of an ensemble, and now she deservedly comes to the centre with a tour de force performance that ought to see her through to an Oscar nomination come January.