Originally published on January 26, 2011
Terri (Wysocki) is a humongous high school student who is stuck in a fog of trying to grow up in Azazel Jacobs’ new and wonderful film “Terri.” He lives in a small town with his dementia (or Alzheimer’s) inflicted Uncle James (an amazing Creed Bratton) and spends his days in pajama’s, the only thing that feels comfortable to him. Terri soon strikes up a friendship with the schools Assistant Principal Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly) who is like a poor man’s Tony Robbins. He speaks in positive yet tacit tones and imparts stories about growing up and overcoming adversity. He decides to meet with Terri once a week to check-in.
I don’t mean to be cruel when I say Terri is humongous, it’s a fact. He’s so big it feels like he doesn’t fit into this world and obviously that’s the visual idea Jacobs is getting at. When we first see him, he’s nearly spilling out of a bathtub and throughout the film, Jacobs frames him in boxed in spaces that add to that nearly suffocating feeling one gets in the midst of puberty or reaching adulthood. “Terri” is an awkward film all around and again, this is a credit to Jacobs and his style, and not a negative aspect at all.
Throughout the film a sense of tension is felt as you really never know what kind of weird, coarse and funny thing swill happen and as a result, you’re sort of on the edge of your seat. Terri constantly finds out the world isn’t how he now perceives it and this cause him to get upset and react strongly. When you see a hulking, 300 pound plus teenager in pajamas starting to get Hulk-angry, it’s extremely uncomfortable.
But “Terri” isn’t some kind of Todd Solondz or Harmony Korine style freak show, the film is all heart. Terri forms relationships with other freaks, geeks and school outcasts and as a result, you feel genuinely happy for him. Then, things get weird and once again, you’re nearly covering your eyes in fear of what might happen. While again, much of this is credited to Jacobs’ ability to build tension, much of it also comes from the way he’s touching on that angsty, ill-fitting feeling one gets while growing up.
This is Jacobs’ foray to the big kids table of filmmaking and he shows he belongs there. John C. Reilly does his normal Reilly schtick, but here, there’s layers of character involved we don’t always see in his performances. Creed Bratton, who is the favorite minor character of every fan of the American “The Office,” shows he’s actually a really, really good actor and Jacob Wysocki as the titular character in the film is outstanding as well. He has to carry the film and you feel frustrated by him as often as you feel hopeful or happy. It’s a great performance that never slips into a pity-party or some kind of stunt casting. As I said, “Terri” is an odd and uncomfortable film, but I really like those kinds of things. Yet if you give yourself over to the film, you’ll find one of the best films about growing up I’ve seen in a long, long time.