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Terri Review

terri-movie-jacob-wysocki
RATING:
(3 STARS)

I’m not sure “insightful” is the right word to describe Azazel Jacobs’ Terri, but I’d absolutely call it authentic, believable. Little happens in the film that sheds new light on high school students or the difficulties of growing up obese, and that’s fine when these subjects are tackled with such a delicate touch. Jacobs does a terrific job ensure the actions and emotions present in his first higher-profile effort are genuine. That combined with a pair of great performances makes this an indie worth seeking out.

The film follows Terri (Jacob Wysocki), a 15-year-old student who’s severely overweight, as he cares for his sick—with dementia—Uncle James (Creed Bratton of The Office) and struggles through school. Terri wears pajamas because they’re comfortable, and he’d rather watch animals pick at the dead mice he catches in the attic than hang out with his classmates. He has no real friends, though the school’s assistant principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), takes Terri under his wing. Things change for him, however, when a cute girl, Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) is ostracized for an incident in home ec class. Terri pities her, and decides to show her some much-needed kindness, and she gladly returns the favor.

Terri doesn’t really have any big emotional moments, nor does it reveal any surprising truths. Its strengths are in the small character-building moments—when Terri and Heather pass notes to each other in class, or when Mr. Fitzgerald shares his self-esteem-building philosophy with Terri. Generally, it’s a sweet movie, and though the average 15-year-old’s hormones take front and center in the film’s final third, I never felt any moment was out of place, nor did I feel like Jacobs was resorting to manipulation.

The final third, however, is decidedly less compelling than what occurs before it. The sexual politics at play are a little uncomfortable to watch, frankly, and after roping us in through the resilient spirit of a few damaged young people, it’s odd to watch those very same people attempt to awkwardly hook up.

John C. Reilly has quietly done a lot this year, yet his performances have been pretty underwhelming. I thought he was dreadful in Carnage, and he was easily the least effective member of the We Need to Talk About Kevin ensemble. He was OK in Cedar Rapids, but here, he’s excellent. Mr. Fitzgerald isn’t cookie-cutter, like most good-hearted mentor figures. He’s fallible and occasionally does more harm than good toward Terri and some of the other students. But his mantra—that people are just doing the best they can—suits him well.

Jacob Wysocki is a major surprise as Terri. His character has little to no personality, yet he’s not the sad sack or wet blanket you might be expecting. He’s just a little closed off, and understandably so, considering the grief he takes from his classmates. Wysocki’s acting, therefore, needs to be very controlled, and thankfully, it is because without it, the film doesn’t work.

Terri probably won’t be the most memorable film of 2011, but it’s solid. It features believable performances and a strong script, which is a lot more than you can say for most high-school dramas. Seek it out if you have the opportunity. It’s a nice, happy surprise.

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