This movie about the kids the system has forgotten and the people who watch after them may make you want to adopt every person on Earth and hug them forever.

These days I can’t go to the movies without seeing a film that doesn’t star a broad-shouldered hunk in tights saving the world from certain doom (I’ll always love you, Chris Evans), or an overgrown man-child somehow getting it on with a beautiful blonde airbrushed right out of Cosmo. While I’m a fan of both these genres—because I’m a nerd and also, CHRIS EVANS’ BICEPS—sometimes I just need something with more substance and weight and truthfulness and heart. And that’s where Short Term 12 comes in. It’s a film that doesn’t star a superhero or an arrested adult, and is more worthy of your hard-earned movie time and money than anything I’ve seen in forever.

It’s a funny, kind, unsentimental, difficult look at the lives of kids the system has forgotten, and the brave, weird, wounded people who watch after them.And to make a film like that compelling to watch, and not just a boring slog of depression and angst, is no easy feat. More impressively, the film does this all without manipulating your emotions. It works hard to earn your trust, and then rewards you with carefully drawn, wonderfully imperfect characters and no easy answers.

Our portal into this world is Grace, the manager of a short-term care facility for troubled teens somewhere outside of San Francisco, and perhaps the most complicated character of all. She is painfully flawed and gloriously human as she tries to navigate every day with difficult kids and demons of her own, including a heartbreaking secret that threatens to infect and destroy everything she holds dear. If you have a heart beating in your chest, and even if that heart is tiny and cold like the Grinch’s, you will empathize with her struggle to do the right thing in the face of almost unbearable circumstances.

With Grace, we experience the daily horror and humor in a facility where kids are only supposed to stay for less than a year, but often linger much longer, overlooked by an overworked system. There’s the boy who raps about his abusive mother and a girl who is so damaged (and also so bright and brave) that she can only explain her hurt through a truly heartbreaking illustrated short story about an octopus and a shark. I don’t want to give away too much, but you will be feeling all the feelings. And then you will email your friends and family to watch it because you want them to feel all the feelings too.

It’s worth mentioning that this is the film to watch if you need a cathartic cry. From sniffling quietly to openly sobbing, Short Term 12 unleashed a flood of wild emotions within me that made me want to adopt every person on Earth and then hug them forever. It made me want to hold everyone’s hand and tell them that even though life is hard sometimes, and often far from fair, and the injustice of it all can be so infuriating, and even though all that is true, there is still hope, and goodness, and better days, and a big, bright future.

Now please pass the tissues so I can stop sopping up my tears with my T-shirt.


Check out the Short Term 12 Project, which describes itself as “a national, collaborative web-based art project that explores the themes in Short Term 12 through the creative work of fans and supporters.