High School Outcast Finds His Place in Terri
A genially despised genre appealing to a constant and constantly expanding demographic, the high school movie has for years provided ambitious or oddball filmmakers with a measure of cover: It allowed for Gus Van Sants fragmented, kinetic Paranoid Park and provided the framework for Antonio Camposs cyber-thriller, Afterschool. The upcoming Myth of the American Sleepover is another example, as is Azazel Jacobss sweet, strange Breakfast Club revision, Terri.
Terri, adapted by Patrick deWitt from his linked short stories, concerns an obese 15-year-old, a de facto orphan, living in a ramshackle home with a dispirited, perhaps mentally ill uncle for whom he has to care. Although a near-pariah at school, Terri (Jacob Wysocki, in an impressive debut) is comfortable with himself, or at least self-defended, sauntering late into home room, still wearing his pajamas. Impervious to the imprecations of gym teachers and the taunts of the class bully, he is recruited for regular counseling by the schools friendly assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly, indispensible in his conviction being that he is cast as the movies least convincing character).
Like Mr. Fitzgerald, who apparently has unlimited time as well as a propensity for duding his mainly male charges, Terri has a good hearthe also functions as the garrulous educators straight man. Although temporarily put off once he realizes that Fitzgeralds specialty is counseling monsters like himself, Terri befriends pint-size Chad (Bridger Zadina), the most obnoxious of patients, and defends the sexually provocative Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) when she is ostracized for allowing the bully to finger her in Home Economics class.
Directed by Azazel Jacobs
Opens July 1, Angelika Film
Center and Lincoln Plaza
Feature: Azazel Jacobs Doesn't Have to Be Cool Anymore
If Terri has a wryly contemplative tone, it may be because intelligent but unworldly Terri is himself a student of life, whether transfixed by the sight of Heathers abuse or, acting on his uncles instructions, setting mousetraps in the attic, then leaving the dead mice in the woods to see what will happen. Despite the boys intermittent resistance, Fitzgeralds treatment shows signs of working. Heather blossoms, Terris PJs seem a bit more stylish, and Chad becomes almost human. The films climax and set piece is a sensationally sensitive quasi orgy in which the three kids take advantage of Terris home situation to get several types of hammered with unpredictable but not unexpected results.
Theres very little here thats cute or quirky, although, given its subject, Terri is unavoidably didactic. The hero doesnt learn from therapy so much as he learns about it. (Were all just doing the best we can, Fitzgerald says when Terri criticizes his method.) In lesser hands, Terri might have been an exemplary instance of the after-school specials telecast throughout the filmmakers childhood. But Jacobs, whose parents I have known for decades, has an empathetic feel for adolescent geekery, sleaze, and embarrassment. The cast is spirited, the premise is honest, and the direction is sufficiently skillful to obscure most of the platitudes inherent in the material.
Terri is more conventional than Jacobss 2008 breakthrough, Mommas Man, in which a thirtysomething husband and father visits his childhood home and is unable to leave, but his staging remains subtly eccentricthe compositions are oblique or cluttered; the action is often glimpsed through barely cracked doors. Hes sensitive to form and inventive in his camera placement. More than a few shots are initially centered on nothingness, with no apparent subject. There are times when this weirdly bucolic movie suggests a less whimsical version of David Gordon Greens early youth films (George Washington and All the Real Girls) and others when it projects a near-Lynchian sense of grotesque normality. Terris tumbledown digs may not be the overgrown, art-crammed Lower Manhattan loft to which Mikey returns in Mommas Man, but its fertile fantasy terrain nonetheless.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.