Though it features strong performances across the board, this is absolutely Larson's show. She's simply astonishing as big sister to the kids under her watch, both playful and authoritative urging them to communicate their feelings even though she has never been able to do the same. In Jayden she sees a ghost from her own past and it takes her character on a rollercoaster which she manages to root in unbroken naturalism. It's a performance of exceptional subtlety where past pains are concealed beneath a downward glance or behind a fading smile. The backgrounds of Short Term 12's troubled teenagers are carefully revealed through organic dialogue and poignant character moments that prove upbeat without ever feeling overwrought.
Shot in sunny shallow-focus, the visuals remain incredibly intimate creating a sense of the centre, and its inhabitants, as islands disconnected from the wider world. The deft tonal balancing act is also incredibly assured from the director keeping the comedy coming whilst tackling tough issues, though there us a tendency to push the drama farther than it necessarily needed to go. Still, this is never enough to diminish the work that has been done otherwise to elevate what could be humdrum material. Short Term 12 is a funny, beautiful and wonderfully honest film built around an exceptional turn from Larson.