Unlike her naive coworker, Grace (Brie Larson), the protagonist of Short Term 12, knows firsthand about life's hardships. Her traumatic past led her to Short Term 12, where she uses her experiences to give other young people the help she never received, but desperately needed. She has become very good at helping others deal with their pain, but refuses to acknowledge her own...until two situations arise which force her to review the past: an unexpected, unwanted, pregnancy, and the arrival of a tough young woman all too similar to that younger version of herself who she always tries to forget.
Short Term 12 constantly wavers between dark and light. Seemingly happy moments get swallowed up by anger and sadness. It portrays a survivor's experience well - the way simplest things can trigger strong emotions and painful memories. Cretton isn't afraid to engage with difficult issues like child abuse (both physical and sexual) and self-harm, and he does it successfully, so that it never feels preachy or overly dramatic.
Like Malek, Gallagher Jr.'s resume includes a lot of TV work. One of Aaron Sorkin's favorites, he had parts in both The West Wing (Sorkin, 1999-2006) and The Newsroom (Sorkin, 2012-2014). He also played a main role in the HBO miniseries based off of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge (Choldenko, 2014). Another underutilized talent, Gallagher's theater training gives him an extra depth especially evident in Short Term 12. More directors (both onstage and off) would do well to cast him. He makes his return to the Broadway stage this year in the Roundabout Theater Company revival of the Eugene O'Neil classic Long Day's Journey Into Night.