Written By and Directed By Destin Daniel Cretton

Once in a while, something comes along that absolutely knocks the wind out of you in a way that you’re thankful for. This is one of those examples, a powerhouse of breathtaking beauty and unyielding melancholy that doesn’t shy away from the impact it intends to make.

The story takes place at a care center for at-risk teens, and is bookended by scenes of the counselors (played by Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr, Rami Malek and Stephanie Beatriz) standing outside, sharing funny, touching stories and thwarting escape attempts. Their daily grind would prove too much for most of us, but they put on a brave face and become what these kids need them to be, whatever form that may take on a given day. Heartfelt doesn’t even do the movie justice, as its a word that doesn’t contain enough love to match what is given off in just 90 minutes. Destin Daniel Cretton, as writer and director, has a deep and full understanding of the story being presented and absolutely nails every aspect. His camera is both our window and his narrative device, with handheld work that is just unsteady enough to convey the instability in these lives without becoming a distraction. The cinematography, direction, score, acting…everything is in harmony.

Larson hits a home run as Grace, as does Gallagher Jr as her boyfriend Mason. He wants to lend her some strength to help her in troubled times, but her inability to truly let him in perfectly reflects the kids she tries so hard  to help. In a late scene, she looks to a drawing of a seahorse she’s made on her own hand snd it gives a wonderful window into her mindset. Just as a seahorse clings to seaweed to avoid being lost to the current, so too does she need something solid to grasp while she faces the torrent of a trying job, a new pregnancy and a past of horrible abuse. The drawing on her hand seems so innocent but says so much about her and the overall theme in the script. Larson is terrific throughout, but the late scenes carry so much weight (especially for such a short runtime) that she becomes a juggernaut once that momentum is gained. Lakeith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever both shine as troubled kids trying to overcome traumatic pasts and play very important roles that take the narrative in crucial directions.

Love, strength, abuse, sympathy, empathy, and much more are explored, revealed and plumbed for depth within these ninety minutes. Social work may never  have been depicted so spot-on and evoked such feeling. This is a triumph on all levels.