By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - America's foster care system is the unlikely setting for a love story in "Short Term 12," an independent film that examines a young couple's relationship amid the troubles, trauma and camaraderie of teenagers in foster care.
Written and directed by filmmaker Destin Cretton, "Short Term 12," which opened in U.S. theaters on Friday, follows social workers at a foster care facility as they confront the everyday challenges of working with abandoned and abused children.
The film is centered on Grace, played by Brie Larson, a social worker who finds her own trauma from sexual abuse creeping up as she connects with the adolescents in her care.
Cretton, 34, told Reuters that he wanted a central character who shared not just a similar background to that of the children, but "something so intense that she has not even come close to dealing with it."
"All the ancillary storylines all serve one single purpose, to see how they affect Grace and to see how she reacts to them. Every scene with a kid is either pushing Grace to feel that she can do this, or causing her to feel she can't," Cretton said.
The director, who was inspired to write "Short Term 12" from his experiences of working in a California group home facility in his first job after college, told Reuters he wanted to avoid casting judgment on foster homes.
"This movie is not meant to be an umbrella statement on the current state of the foster care system. There are definitely highlights of certain complications there, but our hope is that anybody can connect to this movie and relate it to their own life," the director said.
SPOTLIGHT ON LARSON AND GALLAGHER
Larson, 23, and John Gallagher Jr., 29, who is best known as Jim Harper on HBO drama "The Newsroom," form the couple, Grace and Mason, who fall in love while working together at the foster care facility.
"At the center of this film was a really beautiful, honest, deep relationship between these two people that care about each other very deeply but are up against some very intense odds," Gallagher said.
"Short Term 12" premiered at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, this year and won the grand jury narrative feature award and the narrative audience award.
It has drawn positive reviews, earning a score of 84 out of 100 on review aggregator Metaritic.com.
Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern said the film is "a big deal on a small scale" for showcasing Cretton's narrative and filmmaking skills and "Larson's abundant talent."
Larson, who has supporting roles in this year's "The Spectacular Now" and "Don Jon," said she did intense research into the rules of foster care and the traumas suffered by the teenagers to form her understanding of Grace.
"The complexity of Grace was really exciting to me," Larson said. "There was so much to work with and a lot of room for me to add in my own interpretation and create this whole internal life in her."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Xavier Briand)