Terri (2011)

July 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly have a heart to heart in the coming of age film 'Terri'

Story by Azazel Jacobs

Script by Patrick DeWitt

Directed by Azazel Jacobs

Starring Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Olivia Crocicchia, Bridger Zadina and Creed Bratton

Terri is the latest in a long but seldom revisited tradition of films about adolescent outcasts (such as similarly titled films Angus and Cyrus). Terri, the titular character, is an obese adolescent loner who lives with an unstable uncle (Creed Bratton) and goes to a fairly typical middle school where he is either made fun of or ignored by the rest of the student body. It doesn’t help that he only wears pajamas, refuses to participate in P.E. and seems lost in his thoughts or when he does bother to open his mouth, he’s too mature and thoughtful for other students to appreciate his wisdom, the kind of wisdom one acquires through years of careful observation in lieu of participation.

One day, the school’s principle (John C. Reilly) takes a special interest in Terri’s well-being and arranges weekly meetings to shoot the breeze and ostensibly give Terri a boost of self-confidence. This spawns an unforeseen series of events that forces Terri out from his shell of social indifference and forces the rest of the student body to look at him in a different, more respectful light.

Terri (the film) stands out from the crowd because, while it shows some over the top movie cliches of high school bully-outcast interactions, it pulls most of its punches in favor of serene subtlety, ala’ last year’s ‘Cyrus’; it manages to make each of its characters 3-dimensional, bordering on seeming like real human beings. This achievement starts with the actors. The titular Terri, as played by newcomer Jacob Wysocki, defies film cliches. His weight is not played for laughs, he isn’t played as a sap or even for sympathy. Wysocki plays Terri as a painfully self-aware adolescent who is mature in ways that might hold one back socially. He can’t simply be a part of the student body. Wysocki is calm, collected and thoughtful. His words sound genuine, his skepticism doesn’t come from his words but from his body language, which is languid and allows him to speak volumes about his apprehension in taking part in the social tet-a-tet he finds himself a part of as the film progresses. Hopefully Hollywood finds similarly complex roles for Wysocki to enrich beyond his A-typical physicality. Likewise, the pretty girl Terri finds himself watching in home economics plays beyond her physical type as an actress. At first she’s shown at a great distance, with Terri hiding his head behind his supplies. She’s flirting with an average looking boy who displays the kind of confidence and social drive Terri so sorely lacks.

Soon, that other boys’ confidence will bring he, the girl and Terri together in ways nobody could imagine. I won’t give away the catalyst for Terri’s transformation, but I will say that the film approached the topic with sincerity and sensitivity to the characters. As per usual in these coming of age stories, Terri gains a romantic interest, in this case, in the form of the girl Heather, who he’d been watching earlier. She is played by ‘Rescue Me’ series regular Olivia Crocicchia as an a-typical pretty blonde. She pursues Terri in an interesting, sweet manner that belies her innocence and naivete and accentuates the advanced wisdom hidden behind Terri’s awkwardly quiet demeanor. We watch as Terri is forced by his good nature into interacting with the girl and developing something resembling a social life between her advances and his awkward acceptance of similarly labeled outcasts and misfits, other people whom the principle has taken a special interest in.

There are some minor subplots about the various events going on at Terri’s home and in his school, but ultimately Terri is about a good natured, intelligent young man who knows he’s not ready to face the world in a more confident, take-charge manner.

The movie’s apex is a typical scene of adolescent experimentation between Terri and Heather. The film makers display such frank honesty and realism that I was both shocked and impressed. The actors also pulled it off with aplomb, seeming genuinely overconfident and terrified of their actions at the same time as they try to act older than they really are.

As we explore each characters’ strengths and flaws, the script and direction reveal themselves to be subtly keen and wise beyond the average coming of age story, as we don’t witness character arcs or perfunctory actions, but something resembling reality. The awkwardness, the desire to be accepted and feel normal, the self-doubt, the exploration, the ecstasy and agony of growing up and figuring things out, one mistake at a time.

Terri might not be for everyone, as its frank depiction of adolescent experimentation borders on the exploitative, though in this reviewer’s opinion, keeps it tasteful to the very end. A surprisingly honest little film about all the sides to every coin.

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