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posted: 9/12/2013 6:00 AM

'Short Term 12' an honest look at everyday survival

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  • Grace (Brie Larson) listens to troubled teen in the terrific drama

      Grace (Brie Larson) listens to troubled teen in the terrific drama

  • Rose (Deborah Francois) prepares for the world typing championship in the French comedy "Populaire."

      Rose (Deborah Francois) prepares for the world typing championship in the French comedy "Populaire."

  • Video: "Populaire" trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: "Short Term 12"

Destin Cretton's realistically piercing drama "Short Term 12" comes from a place of honesty, hurt, heart and hope.

Without succumbing to sentimental affectation or genre clichés, "Short Term 12" combines a troubled-teen tale with a mentor-student story to create a fresh and vibrant look at how damaged young people survive -- and more important, how they help each other survive.

Actress Brie Larson renders an emotionally transparent, multilayered performance as Grace (not an accidental name). In her 20s, Grace works as a counselor at a home for troubled teens with her easygoing co-worker and after-hours romantic interest Mason (John Gallagher Jr.).

Grace goes about her job employing maternal instincts and a shrewd understanding of the problems affecting her many adolescent wards. Some are suicidal. Some are cutters. Some are lost. All of them are angered.

Grace has her own problems, one being her second unplanned pregnancy. The arrival of a new ward named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a defiant smart-butt with cutter issues, sets off alarms for Grace. Later, as Cretton slowly and theatrically peels away the story layers, we understand Grace's instant connection to Jayden and why she feels extra protective of her.

Cretton expanded his own 2009 film short to create "Short Term 12," based on his experiences working at a similar institution for at-risk adolescents. That's why his movie feels more like a real reality TV show than those prefab reality TV shows.

Cretton's movie also shows an open heart to all its characters. It dispenses with villains, traditional clunky exposition and recycled sound bites passing for dialogue.

At its best, it showcases raw humanity with all its miracles and flaws on full display. It blindsides us with moving moments, such as malcontent Marcus (Keith Stanfield) suddenly pouring out his soul in a harsh rap song that bleeds with understanding.

And if cinematographer Brett Pawlak's hand-held camera wasn't the best approach to capture deeply poignant close-ups, that's a small distraction in an indie production that puts most mainstream Hollywood teen dramas to shame.

"Short Term 12" opens at the Century Centre and River East in Chicago, the Evanston Century 12 and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated R for language and sexual situations. 96 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

Reel Life mini-review: "Populaire"

Typing as a spectator sport?

That's the cute premise of the wistful French Rom-COM "Populaire," a frothy, lighter-than-meringue movie in which boisterous style happily trumps substance.

This first-time feature from director Regis Roinsard explodes with color and fun as it resurrects the spirit and fashions of those Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies from the 1950s.

(The closest American counterpart I can think of would be 2003's "Down With Love" starring Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger singing, "We'll walk down the aisle to an angels' chorus/I'll be your Rock if you'll be my Doris.")

In 1958 France, 21-year-old Rose Pamphyle (the fetching Deborah Francois) has bigger dreams than working in her father's small town shop. She heads to the big city to get a job as a secretary at an insurance office run by thirty-something clothes horse Louis (Romain Duris, loosely recalling Jean-Paul Belmondo with an exceptionally cruel smile).

Rose proves to be clerical disaster, but she can type at the speed of sound using only two fingers. Louis decides to hire Rose and train her in speed typing so she can win the prestigious international speed typing championship in New York City.

Of course, to make the training more efficient, Rose will have to move in with Louis and risk becoming the target of local gossips.

"The Artist" star Berenice Bejo pops in as Louis' former lover Marie, now inexplicably married to an American (Shaun Benson).

Could it be? An American marketing hook masquerading as a French movie subplot?

Even so, cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman brings his "A" game to this modest production by infusing its many typing sequences with close-ups and sweeping dolly shots, much of his footage quick-cut to the rhythm of slamming carriage returns.

Francois and Duris make this movie by sharing a perfect Rock 'n' Doris chemistry as the straightforward plot throws up the obligatory roadblocks to their eventual romance, which, by the way, earns its R rating.

A Rock and Doris movie rated R? Hey, this is a French movie.

"Populaire" opens at the Rated R for sexual situations. 111 minutes. ★ ★

Reel Life film notes:

• The Naperville Independent Film Festival initiates the fall film fest season with programs Sept. 14 through 21 at four Naperville locations. WGN entertainment reporter and film critic Dean Richards will receive the festival's Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 21. Tickets and schedules are at naperfilmfest.org.

• The 11th annual Woodstock International Film Festival, bumped from its regular January berth for theater renovation, runs Wednesday through Sept. 22 at the Woodstock, 209 Main St., in Woodstock. Five foreign film Academy Award-nominees will be shown, including the winner, "Amour." A pass for all five films costs $30. Single tickets cost $7.50. Tickets available at the Woodstock Theatre box office. Go to classiccinema.com.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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