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Filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster) directs this SXSW Grand Jury Award-winning drama about staffers at a group foster home who are dealing with emotional troubles of their own. The feature centers on Grace (Brie Larson), who directs the facility, and her coworker-slash-adoring-lover Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.). 

 

Grace does her job well—breaking up fights, inspecting rooms, nurturing relationships, and braiding hair. Her life at home, on the other hand, is fraught. Bottled up, she’s not able to communicate anything of her inner life with Mason, including the ambivalent feelings she has about her unexpected pregnancy. But when Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a new teenage girl at the facility, enters the scene with cutting scars and an overt emotional barricade, Grace sees herself in the girl, and begins to unlock what’s been keeping them both walled up. 

 

The young people at the home are living with the effects of trauma, abuse, and other horrors, but the mood of the film isn’t bleak or harsh. Cretton lets his camera linger on the kids and the details of their rooms—handmade dolls, fake eyelashes, disposable-camera shots on the walls—celebrating from the get-go the wonderful weirdness and awkward beauty of youth.

 

It’s refreshing to see Larson in a role that’s so imperfect, serious, and strong all at once—no manic pixie dream girls, feisty heroines, or badass tough bitches here. She delivers a character that feels achingly human, and she does it brilliantly.

Anna Bean

This review appears in the Aug/Sept 2013 issue of BUST Magazine with cover girl Janelle Monae. Subscribe now

Image via Sundance

Video via Youtube