Destin Daniel Cretton is among the promising American indie filmmakers to be hoovered up by Marvel Studios. Cretton directed the VFX-heavy fantasy adventure Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2021. Another kind of magic, the kind you can actually feel, is at work in Cretton’s heartwarming directorial debut Short Term 12.

The other link between the 2013 drama and MCU is Brie Larson. The future Captain Marvel starred in her first lead role in Short Term 12, turning out a sensitive performance that suggests that her talent is wasted on superhero sagas.

Short Term 12, which is available on Prime Video, was developed from Cretton’s short film of the same name. The 96-minute movie is marked by humanistic feeling and realistic performances, which help overcome any doubts about the almost impossibly sunny denouement.

A home for troubled teenagers is watched over by a group of dedicated supervisors, including Grace (Larson) and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr). Grace is the home’s denim-clad angel, dispensing warmth and tough love in equal doses. She needs all the empathy she can muster when Jayden (Kaityln Dever) arrives with a notebook full of ominous scrawls and a surly exterior that masks deep wounds.

Away from work, Grace and Mason have a dreamy relationship that is occasionally brought back to earth by Grace’s mood swings. Cretton’s screenplay, based on his own experiences at a real-life home for adolescents, is attuned to the emotional arcs of Jayden and Grace as well as the crackling chemistry between Larson and Gallagher Jr.

The close-ups that fill the screen draw attention to the excellent cast. Rami Malek plays Nate, a new recruit whose first day at work alerts him to the perils of dealing with deeply disturbed children. Making his feature debut in Short Term 12 is LaKeith Stanfield (credited here as Keith Stanfield), playing a doughty survivor of maternal abuse.

Shoter Term 12 (2013).