Judge Clark Douglas wishes he were a lovable unlovable misfit.
Our review of Terri, published October 11th, 2011, is also available.
You don't have to fit in to belong.
"Now you gotta do something."
Facts of the Case
Terri (Jacob Wysocki, Huge) is a quiet, gentle, obese teenager who lives with his dementia-afflicted Uncle James (Creed Bratton, The Office). Terri just wants to make it through high school with as little trouble as possible, but his occasionally peculiar behavior (including wearing his pajamas to school simply because "they fit and they're comfortable") causes Principal Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly, Magnolia) to single Terri out for special attention. Once a week, the two get together for some in-depth conversation time, in which Terri's complicated personal life is discussed. During this time, Terri makes two new friends: attractive misfit Heather Miles (Olivia Crocicchia, Rescue Me) and the persistently odd Chad (Bridger Zadina, The Glades).
Even if Terri had a slimmer, more attractive physical appearance, it's unlikely that he would be one of the popular kids at his school. He has minimal interest in playing the kind of childish games required to make it up high school social ladder and his personality is too volatile to maintain the sort of artificial, controlled facade the "cool kids" seem to possess. For the most part, he is thoughtful, gentle, and level-headed, though sufficient provocation can send him into fits of unreasonable rage. With his hulking figure and floppy pajamas, he is the unavoidable center of attention wherever he goes. Both Terri and his fellow students do their best to pretend this isn't the case.
Unlike Chad (whose wiry, gangly appearance makes him stand out in an entirely different way), Terri isn't engaging in attention-grabbing behavior for the sake of getting attention. It's simply that he has an original mind in an unoriginal world, and little seems to discourage him from simply pursuing whatever feels natural. One day, Terri is in the woods and witnesses a bird of prey swoop down and gobble up a small mouse. He is awestruck by this vivid demonstration of nature at work. Uncle James has instructed Terri to set traps in the attic to catch mice, so Terri does this and then brings the bodies of the mice back to the woods in the hopes of seeing a repeat performance. Uncle James spots him lining up dead mice on a log, and accuses Terri of engaging in animal cruelty. It looks peculiar, but Terri can't see the harm: the mice are already dead, the bird needs to eat and he would appreciate the opportunity to observe.
It's that kind of gentle observation that fuels Terri, a film less interested in telling a traditional coming-of-age story than offering an affectionate, honest examination of distinctive human beings. Director Azazel Jacobs helms the film in appealingly understated fashion, never attempting to make the characters unbelievably cute, the story needlessly Significant or his own direction something which draws attention away from the characters. What he offers runs much closer to Ken Loach than Wes Anderson, if you know what I mean. The highlight of his work is a seemingly endless scene between Terri, Heather and Chad, who find themselves wandering into unusual personal territory after treating themselves to a generous supply of Uncle James' alcohol and medication.
The cast is terrific, with Wysocki making a terrific impression in his first major role. I hope he doesn't become one of those actors who everyone admires but who is still shipped off to TV guest star obscurity due to his unconventional appearance. He never permits himself to slip into melodrama, nor does he oversell his material at any point. This is the kind of terrific performance which is likely to be ignored during awards season simply because you never catch Wysocki acting. Reilly is also quite strong as Fitzgerald, delivering a performance which circles similar territory to the characters he essayed so well in Cyrus and Magnolia: an earnest, good-hearted man who's trying so hard not to screw up the positive relationships he's formed. Fans of The Office will also find Bratton's work a revelation; he's affecting in the role and has considerable screen presence.
Terri arrives on Blu-ray sporting a very attractive 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. Cinematography doesn't tend to be a strong point of character-driven indie flicks in general, but this one looks terrific and benefits from quite a bit of graceful visual storytelling. There were times when I was reminded of Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, another small film which found many striking images in drab surroundings. Detail is superb throughout and blacks are deep and inky. Audio is also solid, with clean dialogue, a few moments of impressively detailed sound design and a resonant musical score (which oh-so-occasionally threatens to become too precious, but generally manages to deliver the right amount of emotional punch without becoming cloying). Supplements are limited a disposable featurette (the 10-minute "A Look Inside Terri") and some deleted scenes.
Terri is the kind of gentle, mature, original filmmaking we don't get enough of. It's well worth your time. Don't expect the sort of broad laughs Reilly's been associated with in recent years, though. The Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific.
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