The title of the quietly overwhelming new drama “Short Term 12” refers to a county-run residential facility, set in a generic Los Angeles nowheresville, that houses troubled teenagers while they’re between court dates or foster homes or treatment centers. Sometimes they’re there for a week, sometimes for years. It’s a limbo, and that has its own special challenges and benedictions, both for the kids who pass through and the young staffers — most not much older than their charges — who work there.
Writer-director Destin Cretton was one of those staffers once. In 2008 he poured his experiences into a short film of the same title, and it’s pretty near a perfect thing — a 21-minute drama that observes and aches but never judges. It won all sorts of festival awards and is available on iTunes; you should check it out. And then you should go see this new feature version, which is very, very good without being quite as perfect, in ways that reflect back on how and why we tell stories about our lives and our better intentions.