David Edelstein on the powerful "Short Term 12"

(CBS News) Thinking about going to the movies? David Edelstein has a recommendation ... :

For such a powerful film, it has not such a powerful title, "Short Term 12."

It sounds institutional, which it is. It's the name of a group home for so-called at-risk kids.

The movie is fictional, but the guy who made it, Destin Daniel Cretton, took a job out of college at a California short-term care place like this one.

Maybe he knew someone like Grace, played by the phenomenal actress Brie Larson.

As a counselor, Grace is fierce, strong, steady. In private, with her boyfriend (fellow counselor Mason, played by John Gallagher, Jr.), she's so fragile and frightened you know at once that she's been a victim of abuse herself.

Every day Grace bikes to the squat, unlovely facility, where negotiations for power with kids who have none seem endless.

There's so much free-floating pain in "Short Term 12." You don't see the abuse or the abusers, only the consequences.

You see Marcus, played by Keith Stanfield, who's about to turn 18 and have to leave. He's so broken, so angry. The rap he shares with Mason is a finely-channeled howl of rage at a mother who wasn't a mother.

You see punky, upper-middle-class Jayden, played by Kaitlyn Dever -- so studiously blase and over-defended. But the rage, when it comes, is demonic.

You rarely catch these young actors acting. They look like they're living it. I hope they're not.

There's a clear design in "Short Term 12." There'll be a breakthrough, and we'll think, "Good! He or she is on the mend." Then the kid loses it -- runs away, smashes things -- and the process begins again.

One step forward, one tumble back.

But the movie (which, by the way, is also funny and romantic and rousing) suggests it's possible -- with hard work and harder love -- to create a surrogate family.

It also offers hope that the right kind of short-term love can be everlasting.

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To view the trailer for "Short Term 12" click on the video player below.