The road to Short Term 12's limited theatrical release this Friday, August 23, has been damn near flawless.

In March, writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton's second feature—about the shared connections between the staffers and kids inside of a group home—premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, knocking both casual moviegoers and critics out with its many charms: humor, heart, but unsentimental execution. Short Term 12 left the festival with prizes for Grand Jury Narrative Feature and Narrative Audience Award. The victory parade continued at the Los Angeles Film Festival (where it received a second Narrative Audience Award), the Nantucket Film Festival (Best Screenwriting in a Feature Film), and the Little Rock Film Festival (Best Narrative Feature).

Cretton, 34, isn't so interested in the critical accolades. "It's weird when people praise your work so much," he says. "I don't like hype. It feels unhealthy because it dissipates so quickly." He's more interested in how audeinces are responding. "The experience for me feels real and amazing because of the conversations I'm having with people after every screening," says Cretton. "It's a film that seems to put people in the mood to be honest and open. I've had personal conversations with people after every screening. It's helping me connect with human beings that I wouldn't be able to otherwise, and that's incredible."

The film's star, Brie Larson (21 Jump Street), can relate. "It's amazing, especially when I'm there after the screenings," says the 23-year-old actress. "I've never felt so many people stare so deeply into my soul. I had someone say to me after a recent screening, 'We connected tonight.' It's surreal."

But understandable. Larson plays Grace, the group home's head supervisor; compassionate, sharp, and resilient, she's aces at her job, which she does every day alongside her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.). She's also hiding some deep personal trauma. Her skeletons come tumbling out of the closet when a new intake, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives at Short Term 12 with troubling secrets that trigger something dark and disabling within Grace. Through it all, Larson is exceptional—it's a performance that should be on everyone's mind come next year's Independent Spirit Awards and maybe even the Oscars.

Though Short Term 12 walks into unpleasant territory, it's never uninviting. Cretton's love for his characters shines through in every scene—with every moment of pain, there's always hope on deck. Tears are just as likely as laughter, often at the same time.

Complex sat down with Cretton and stars Larson, Gallagher, Jr., Dever, and Keith Stanfield to find out how an unassuming indie went from a small-scale passion project to one of 2013's most critically acclaimed movies.

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Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)