Winner of the audience award for best drama at last June's Maui Film Festival, "Short Term 12" opens at Kaahumanu 6 on Friday.
Among all the things to say about this modestly great movie is that it was written and directed by Maui boy Destin Cretton, who was raised in Haiku and graduated from King Kekaulike High School before heading off to film school. He's already got a number of prestigious film festival awards in his just-beginning career.
Taken from Cretton's experiences working in a short-term foster-care facility for troubled youth, the film manages to be real, heartbreaking, funny and, by the final frame, hopeful.
It features a bravura performance by 23-year-old Brie Larson as Grace, the supervisor of the facility. Grace is compassionate, patient and wise beyond her years, even as she struggles with her own personal challenges
Led by co-star John Gallagher Jr., the young cast never seems to be acting. With the gritty subject matter and the unobtrusive camerawork, it's easy to mistake it for a documentary instead of a supremely crafted work of art.
It echoes Ken Kesey's accomplishment turning his job in a mental ward into the literary and movie classic "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Except in Cretton's case, he created both the story and the movie.
He never gets preachy with the underlying theme that his young characters are the innocent victims of abuse and other failings of their elders, then turn to self-destructive behavior thinking they're to blame. Instead, he finds strength, brief flashes of humor and resilience en route to a final frame that leaves the audience feeling better than they expected to.
I had the pleasure of interviewing both Larson and Cretton during last June's Maui Film Festival, and came away thinking she was a zen master masquerading as an ingenue, while he was a natural-born filmmaker.
It's heartening to see this indie-film darling available in a mainstream theater. Hopefully the Maui audience will do its part to support it, in appreciation of quality filmmaking and prodigious young talent, along with the pride and sense of ownership that come with seeing a local boy making good.
The actress also co-stars in "The Spectacular Now." If you want to theater hop, you can have a Brie double feature this week.
She plays "the other woman" this time - more like the other high-school senior - in this bittersweet romance that gives "The Descendants' " Shailene Woodley a chance to shine. Directed by James Ponsoldt, it's billed as a comedy-drama, although the funny parts are few and far between in its unlikely pairing of cocky high schooler Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) with his bright but unnoticed classmate Aimee Finicky (Woodley).
The film tries to tap into the awkward, agonizing beauty of first love, but has trouble finding the right tone. The fact that Sutter is already an alcoholic at 18, along with his misplaced abundance of self-esteem don't add to his likeability. Similarly, it's an utter mystery how Aimee's infinite wonderfulness could have gone unnoticed by anyone besides him.
While such an obvious mismatch doesn't lead to the expected conclusion in the plot, you leave the theater not sure what the conclusion was at all.
Two more high schoolers (played by Dianna Agron and John D'Leo) are the kids of a mob couple relocated to a remote French village in a witness protection program after he snitched on his fellow business associates in "The Family." With Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as the couple, and Tommy Lee Jones as their FBI guardian, you feel like you've got to see this crime comedy-thriller - but director Luc Besson's woefully unfunny sense of humor coupled with gratuitous, over-the-top violence will make you wonder why you bothered.
Like the slightly better "Spectacular Now," it still leads to the same conclusion: Go see "Short Term 12" instead.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org