Title: Terri

Directed By: Azazel Jacobs

Written By: Patrick deWitt

Cast: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Creed Bratton, Bridger Zadina, Olivia Crocicchia

Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 6/15/11

Opens: July 1, 2011

We’ve all been through high school. Some of us have seen movies about those trying days and read novels like “Catcher in the Rye.” We gather from the media that high school kids break themselves up into cliques: the jocks, the Einsteins, the hot girls, the cool guys. But nobody wants to hear about the outcasts, the untouchables, those who are not brainy or athletic or cool or hot and therefore suffer on the margins of what could be some of the best times of their lives. “Terri” is about an outcast who is morbidly obese, and rather than do something about his physical problem, he simply decides to accept himself to such an extent that he wears pajamas to school because they’re comfortable. He has given up and no longer tries to gain the acceptance of others. Things change when the vice-principal takes an interest in him, scheduling him and others of that ilk or outright troublemakers for weekly sessions in his small office. The chats that Terri has with the adult, with this authority figure who, we find out later, has his own vulnerabilities, may not help him in high school or in life, but they make for some intriguing, if slow-moving comedy-drama.

The title role of the 15-year-old with the unfortunately androgynous name is played by Jacob Wysocki, twenty years old in real life. This is his breakthrough feature film, one which has promise of future casting in roles that call for obese men. The pace is slow, some would say tediously so, but there are rewards, and “Terri” serves as a movie that will find a particular audience among those who believe they could have done better in the social areas of high school, whether their deficiencies were due to their weight or to some aspect of personality.

Though Terri in introverted, he takes care of his uncle James (Creed Bratton), after presumably having been dumped into the older man’s care by Terri’s parents. James, for his part, treats the boy well but is even more fragile than Terri, an ailing fellow who takes a pharmacy’s worth of pills with the 15-year-old standing by to make sure he does so. When Terri has the fortune of making two friends from the school, the pretty Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) and Chad (Bridger Zadina), he becomes happier than he had been for a while, though one wonders whether the brief friendship would carry over into later life, getting Terri out of his shell. What is left unspoken in the movie is: What is the boy doing to shed that excess weight, which has been not only responsible for his being shunted aside by his classmates but will impinge on his health—if it has not already done so?

While Wysocki is in virtually every frame, far more than the more celebrated actor John C. Reilly in the role of Mr. Fitzgerald, the conferences between the school official and Terri are the anchor. Reilly, an accomplished comedian who could make people laugh by our simply looking at his expressions, plays vice principal in charge of discipline in a small-town California school. When he interviews a troublemaker, he speaks so loudly that the elderly secretary just aside revels in listening in, putting her ear to the window. This is what keeps her going, or so the vice principal imagines. But he’s all bluff, really, a man who is genuinely interested in the kids who are on the margins, even taking them on trips as when he grabs Terri and Chad to go to the funeral of the secretary as the woman had no friends or family.

Mr. Fitzgerald is the authority figure I wish I had and maybe you would too. As for Terri, he is at least noticed by a pretty girl, Heather, when Heather is blacklisted by the rest of the kids for performing a small sexual act during a Home Economics class. Given the bores that director Azazel Jacobs uses as teacher models—the home ec. woman, the home room teacher, the gym coach who throws Terri out because the boy would not perform the needed drills—who could blame Heather for looking for a moment of secret fun?

“Terri” scores despite its tendency to become tedious because it eschews the sit-com mood that other filmmakers might employ while humanizing a boy who is lucky to have made three friends in school.

Rated R. 105 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten – Member: NY Film Critics Online

Story: B

Acting: B

Technical: B

Overall: B

Terri Movie Poster
Terri Movie Poster

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