‘Terri’: On Not Always Fitting In, and Not Being Bothered About It

Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is not your typical movie high-school student that fits easily into a simple category. He’s overweight, but I wouldn’t define him as “the fat kid” or a similar label. That description wouldn’t do justice to such an interesting character.

Terri starts wearing pajamas to school because they’re more comfortable. He’s not making a grand statement and is just taking a practical approach. He lives with Uncle James (Creed Bratton), a tired old man whose mind is drifting away. They eat a lot of beans on toast and live in a worn-down house. It’s not an easy life, but they’re trying their best to make it work. Their connection is understated and original, a description that could apply to this surprising little tale.

Terri is the first wide release for Azazel Jacobs, the son of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs. The New York director has obvious compassion for the small-town characters of Patrick Dewitt’s debut screenplay. Terri becomes friends with Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), an assistant principal who meets with him to discuss his issues.

Their connection is not the typical relationship because it’s flawed, yet still offers something to both participants. Mr. Fitzgerald is struggling with his marriage and tries to keep up a positive face at school. When Terri discovers that his material isn’t entirely genuine, he’s actually hurt beyond what you’d expect from a teenager.

Their scenes are funny but aren’t just played for laughs, and much of their success is due to Reilly. Considering this performance with his impressive roles in Cyrus and Cedar Rapids, and he’s growing into one of the most interesting comic actors working today.

The story’s first half of this story follows Terri as he goes to school, deals with a mouse infestation at home, and just gets through his daily life. It takes an interesting turn in its second hour as Terri starts making connections with some classmates, including Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). She’s a once-popular girl who’s humiliated in the worst way possible, and they share a bond as outsiders after he stands up for her. Their relationship also follows an unexpected path, culminating in a surprising finalé at his house.

Joined by the messed-up Chad (Bridger Zadina), they share a fun night that gets weird thanks to drugs and alcohol. This situation could easily go off the rails, but it stays effective because the characters make sense. They’re kids stumbling towards adulthood, and even possibly embarrassing actions are believable in this context. These believable kids struggle to make a connection but learn through the awkward experience.

This DVD includes just a few bonus features, but they do provide interesting material. A Look Inside Terri gives a behind-the-scenes perspective on the movie without feeling promotional. Running about ten minutes, this featurette uses impressive photography to give an attractive look at the production. It’s basically interviews with Jacobs and Wysocki but provides some good footage along with the conversations. The other extra is seven minutes of deleted scenes, which includes strong character moments for Reilly and Zadina during their funeral trip.

Wysocki was a virtual unknown prior to starring in Terri, with his most notable credit being ABC Family’s Huge series. His performance is quite good and serves as the heart of the mild-mannered film. He never overplays the big moments and makes even the tricky scenes with Heather work. Crocicchia also shines in a tough part as a girl who’s relieved to make a connection after her fall.

Although it seems mundane on the surface, there’s plenty going on in this story. Its pull sneaks up on you and is only clear after the credits have rolled. These well-drawn characters have stuck with me for days and won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

RATING 7 / 10