This was one of those films I ended up regrettably missing in its brief run in my city. But on a snowy afternoon today, with most of my homework done and a few dollars to spare, I rented it. If you find yourself in the same position, I recommend you do the same with this powerful and heart-warming* film.
I say heart-warming with an asterisk. Is that the best way to describe this film? Probably not for the most part, as it has some very heavy moments, but it did leave me with a certain hopefulness.
The plot revolves around Grace(Brie Larson), who is a 20-something supervisor at a residential youth treatment facility. She, along with her boyfriend/co-worker Mason(John Gallagher Jr.) navigate a turbulent set of days that see one kid leaving as he’s aged out, and another kid who reminds Grace a lot of herself entering the home.
Brie Larson is absolutely magnificent here. Her character of Grace is one that is constantly dealing with the challenge of maintaining both personal and professional relationships with the kids she takes care of. But as the plot progresses, her own troubled past comes back to her, and she begins to crumble underneath the multiple sides of pressure. Larson handles all these facets of her character with great understanding and control. John Gallagher Jr. performs Mason with great warmth, supporting Grace through her own troubles. Keith Stanfield is a revelation as Marcus, the kid turning 18 and being forced to leave for it. A pivotal scene shows him rapping about the life of abuse he’s led, and it’s one of the most powerful in the film. Kaitlyn Dever (Loretta from Justified!) plays Jayden, the new girl that Grace connects with, and Dever plays her part with the nuance and focus of an actress far beyond her years.
Destin Cretton’s direction is all about the characters. He gives them the prime focus, shooting intimate moments in a naturalistic aesthetic. He handles some very heavy subjects throughout this film, and none of it forced or ham-fisted. All the emotion comes naturally.
I have never lived in a foster home or a residential facility. I have never worked with these kids. But Cretton certainly has, and allows the audience to feel as if they have as well. Roger Ebert once said “…the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” I don’t always watch a film, and immediately afterwards reminded of that quote, but I was with this film.