Short Term 12 (12A, limited release, 97 minutes)
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton. Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek.
In the opening scene of writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton's heartfelt and hard-hitting drama, a bearded hipster called Mason (John Gallagher) stands on a sunlit lawn regaling two work colleagues with an extended joke at his own expense.
He's halfway through when a teenage boy emerges at high speed from a doorway behind them and makes a break for it. Mason and his colleagues run a foster care facility for vulnerable teenagers and we're left in no doubt that this is not an occupation for the fainthearted.
Mason works closely with Grace (Brie Larson), a passionate young woman who's devoted to helping the vulnerable youngsters in her care. She and Mason are also an item, but their relationship is sorely tested by the emotional rigours of the job. The teenagers they deal with are often recovering abuse victims, sometimes suicidal and always starved of parental love. When a girl called Jayden arrives at the facility, her story awakens uncomfortable memories for Grace.
Cretton's film is based on his own experiences and the case studies he dramatises have an unsettling ring of truth.
He manages to make these stories moving without cheaply sentimentalising them and Kaitlyn Dever is exceptionally good as a self-harming teenage inmate.