Directed By: Azazel Jacobs
Starring: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Bridger Zadina, Olivia Crocicchia, Creed Bratton
With so many quirky coming-of-age movies out there, not only is establishing a unique and engaging lead character vital, but the same goes for the general tone of the film, too. While Terri does make use of some of the standard genre conventions, it packs so many innovative broad strokes and tiny details, it rises above the usual shtick, becoming something that makes an impact for all the right reasons.
Terri’s (Jacob Wysocki) got it rough; he’s an overweight teen who’s been abandoned by his parents, must take care of his ailing uncle (Creed Bratton) and is constantly picked on at school. When tardiness and his new wardrobe, consisting only of pajamas, land him in vice principal Fitzgerald’s (John C. Reilly) office, rather than suffer the consequences with a detention sentence, Terri actually makes a friend, Mr. Fitzgerald himself.
Thanks to his new relationship with Mr. Fitzgerald, Terri crosses paths with a couple other troubled souls, Chad (Bridger Zadina) and Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). Sure Chad is a bit off as he seemingly enjoys giving himself premature baldness and Heather is intensely promiscuous, but ultimately they’re quite similar to Terri in that they’re just trying to navigate through their adolescent period and emerge on the other side with some dignity.
As a character piece, it’s vital that Terri be an interesting person. He’s an overweight kid that wears pajamas, enjoys killing mice in his attic and eating beans on toast; how intriguing could he be? Oddly enough, those intimate quirks are presented in a way that pulls you in from the moment the film begins and never let go. At the start, Terri’s simply a kid that doesn’t do much. He seemingly has his routine and sticks to it. Still, his behavior is news to the audience and therefore, fresh and interesting. Then, just before you’re as bored by his routine as Terri, director and co-writer Azazel Jacobs offers up a curveball via Mr. Fitzgerald. From the moment Mr. Fitzgerald and Terri kick off their Monday morning meetings, Terri’s world is on the rocks and he becomes a far less predictable character. However, Jacobs keeps just enough of the character we first met intact to maintain that initial connection, making Terri’s change something we experience with him.
Mr. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, is a little bit too erratic. It’s made quite clear that while he appears to be the good guy, there’s something not quite right about him and, sure enough, he exhibits some incredibly unusual and often inappropriate behavior. Then again, he’s also capable of turning right back around to being Terri’s best friend and, as Terri’s quite likable, we want him to have that comfort. While there’s nothing wrong with a character that keeps you guessing, unlike with Terri, Mr. Fitzgerald’s motivations are never established quite clear enough to give the audience a firm grasp on who he really is. However, this is in no way a reflection of Reilly’s performance as he does make Mr. Fitzgerald feel like as much of a real person as possible.
As for Crocicchia and Zadina, both deserve praise for completely opposing styles of work. While Heather is far more calm and calculating, Chad is perpetually on edge and when he’s scheming, he takes pride in announcing it in the most obnoxious way possible. Through most of the film, Chad can be a bit too much and Heather not enough, but when the two come together with Terri in the final act of the film it all makes sense and they turn out to be the perfect complement to one another.
While this is a performance driven piece, Jacobs and his cinematographer, Tobias Datum, impart their own creativity knowing exactly what to do in order to enhance their cast’s work without being intrusive. There’s no showy camera work here, merely well-placed shots through which the audience can observe as though they’re standing right there alongside Terri. Even beyond the actors, the elements that the camera captures are clearly incredibly well planned down to the most minute of set pieces.
No, Terri isn’t perfect, but like the main character himself, the flaws are what give the piece character. The combination of likability and tragedy is magnetic, making Terri and his story incredibly engaging. It’s not something with some grand statement to make or even a film that’s wrapped up neatly and topped with a red ribbon for that matter. It’s just a simple slice of life that you’ll appreciate having experienced.
By Perri Nemiroff