Jacob Wysocki is the Michael Cera of misfits playing the title character in Terri, who is a young outcast in high school because of his weight and his dress. He wears pajamas “because they’re comfortable,” rarely socializes, and frequently skips class. Something about his character makes him effortlessly likable and it’s not because we feel sorry for him throughout most of the film.
What makes Terri likable is his silent charm. His ability to speak softly despite the frustration that must be building up inside of him. He’s a great protagonist, and it’s not a problem that the story moves slowly because we take time to focus on an interesting character. This doesn’t become a character study as much as it becomes a character fascination.
After one too many tardies, Terri is sent to the principal’s office. The principal is played questionably by John C. Reilly who is Mr. Fitzgerald who tries to form a friendship with Terri when it is clear he doesn’t want one. They wind up becoming close acquaintances with a mutual fondness for each other. This isn’t a contrived story of older man befriends misfit. This is the story of two world colliding to try and work out a problem. The result works, for the most part.
One day in his home economics class, Terri sees his crush, term used loosely, being sexually violated by a classmate after obtaining consent. Terri is baffled by the situation, but then forms another mutual bond with the girl. The girl’s name is Heather (Crocicchia), a beautiful girl not housing a terrible life, just unfortunate circumstances.
Terri isn’t out to form a typical romance story between two people of the same breed or to make the principal a motivational character in the boy’s life. It’s out to show the harsh reality and the hardships of being a teenager. This may seem like something that has been done a countless number of times, but rarely has a writer given characters like these a lengthy runtime and actually not force events on them. Writer Patrick DeWitt doesn’t follow plot-point with plot-point, he lets the characters develop and find themselves at their own pace. Like real human-beings. No way can we see the full picture in a hundred and five minutes. Terri shows us that.
My real gripe or quibble with Terri is its awkwardness. It is done purposely to create more of a sincere effect, but rarely do the characters say more than three lines at a time. There is a lot of dead air in the film and that can get frustrating. This resorts back to the “letting the characters develop at their own pace” aspect of the film. The characters are allowed to develop, but should also be allowed to say more involving dialog. I was hoping for not a parable, but just a few characters saying what’s on their mind.
I’d also like to mention that this greatly reminds me of a 1995 film I fell in love with a few months ago. The film is Angus and that and Terri have some grand similarities. Angus is a chubby outcast, as is Terri, both have social problems in school, and both live with people other than their biological parents. I liked Angus because of its spunk, its emotional effect it stamped on me, and the vibrant characters that I couldn’t help but cheer for at the end. Terri lacks an emotional payoff. Not to mention, it’s kind of odd how Angus was met with lukewarm reception in 1995, but now, sixteen years later, we get a film that has a resemblance to that and it’s critically praised.
Still, this is one of the better, more poignant coming of age tales I’ve seen in a while. I think the last one that truly moved me was Rob Reiner’s Flipped. Terri is missing only three things that don’t truly destroy a coming of age movie; an emotional payoff, a better ending, and a constant awkwardness. I can’t lie that I fell in love with the characters, but I can say I wanted more out of them. 2011 has been a year of a lot of things. Between this and Young Adult it truly is also a year of abrupt endings.
Starring: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, and Olivia Crocicchia . Directed by: Azazel Jacobs.