Written by: Patrick DeWitt
Directed by: Azazel Jacobs
Starring: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Olivia Crocicchia, Creed Bratton, Bridger Zadina
Azazel Jacobs’ Terri begins and moves like any other film about a high school misfit but still it contains something different. By all accounts, Terri should feel like the same-old; it tells a familiar story and refuses to get serious about its subject matter by undercutting itself with an obscure sense of humour. Still, something shines in Terri and by its final act it has begun to build towards an amount of genuine insight.
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is an overweight 15-year-old who lives with his sweet but heavily medicated uncle James (Creed Bratton) and who, wearing pyjamas to school, seems to have given up on fitting in. Classmates call him names like “Double D” but Terri doesn’t really lash out, he just gets through as much of each day as he can and cuts school when he’s had enough. He finds a certain solace in caring for his uncle, and a brief fascination with killing mice and feeding them to eagles doesn’t stick. Terri is not aggressive, he’s beyond self-pity and he seems content to put his head down and try and get through life with as few encounters as possible. The school’s principle, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), notices Terri and reaches out to him, setting a regular appointment to just chat once a week. Terri cautiously agrees, not cautious out of fear but out of apathy and the two begin to build some sort of friendship.
Terri was written by Patrick DeWitt, the Canadian novelist whose recent novel “The Sisters Brothers” is a western about a duo of cowboy bandits, Charlie and Eli Sisters, one of which is an overweight man constantly struggling with confidence, self-image, his weight, his hygiene and his complicated attraction to the women he meets. With the character of Terri, DeWitt has transplanted the same notions onto a teenager but is still concerned with the state of masculinity in the modern world. Nothing about Terri or his life fit into any definition of “normal” and he has chosen to bypass such norms by flaunting his shortcomings and doing himself no service at all. His self-negligence is merely a reflection of society’s neglectful treatment of those outside the center and Terri is content to stay there, almost mockingly.
Terri is most certainly a comedy, but I couldn’t name any scene that is more funny than sad. Perhaps the humour is merely residual, as if born only from the casting of comic actors in straight roles. Creed Bratton, best known for his work on The Office, here is a sad and broken man who at his best is totally strange and at his worst is catatonic. A brief appearance from Tim & Eric’s Tim Heidecker as Terri’s gym teacher is played totally straight, but something about it just… feels funny. This is also true about a bizarre running gag about the school’s aging secretary, the sort of gag where the punchline comes first. The performance given by Reilly is as serious as any of his dramatic roles, but i can’t shake the sense that there is something tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing. There’s something sly about the tone of the film, like when someone is attempting to suppress a fit of giggles at a funeral.
The performance from Wysocki makes this film; he strikes an incredible note between sarcasm and despair without bothering with self-flagellation. The interactions between Terri and his friends Chad (Bridger Zadina) and Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) feel as genuine as any other such relationship I can think of in the movies.The end of the film is more convincing than the beginning, as a night of sneaky drinking between Terri and a couple new friends betrays more genuine truth about the adolescent experience than any of the rest of the film.