There are few things in cinema more pleasurable than a movie that manages to signal from the very beginning that it’s something special, that it’s been put together with care and honesty. Short Term 12, directed by Destin Cretton, does exactly that, positioning the camera on a relatively relaxed moment between the employees of a group home for at-risk teens, the sorts that have been, for one reason or another, discarded by their families and society as a whole. Their interaction is simple and unburdened until suddenly it changes with the banging open of a door, a perfect introduction to the setting where the boring and the tragic coexist uneasily. The film has the loosest of plots, often playing as much like the pilot episode of a cable drama–a cable drama that’s damn good from the jump–even as it holds together as its own singular, satisfying work. With great care and tender observation, Cretton takes in all of the quiet agony and dark humor of those who cycle through the facility, either as residents or the beleaguered employees, many of the latter seemingly situated there in part because of their own damaged histories. The quiet and the clamor each cause their own ripples, and the film constantly surprises despite a structural soundness that naturally offers signals of what’s to come thanks to Cretton’s evocation of moments that are piercingly real. Brie Larson stands at the center of the film as Grace, a woman who’s passion for the kids she oversees is deeply informed by her own insecurities, making her simultaneously the perfect caregiver and someone too prone to rash decisions. As with all of the other contrasts Cretton explores expertly in the film, he uses Larson’s stellar performance to show that the distance between extremes is never as far as it appears to be.