Terri was another movie that played the festival circuit, including Sundance and SXSW. It didn’t make much of an impression along the way, but it kept showing up. Now it’s coming to the Los Angeles Film Festival, so I finally saw it and it’s more interesting than I expected.
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a fat kid, but they don’t play the fat card very long. His problems are way weirder than that. He’s living with an uncle (Creed Bratton) who goes in and out of Alzheimer’s. The school principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) tries to take a personal interest, but what’s a small town school principal going to do?
Director Azazel Jacobs captures the sad sense of lethargy that is Terri’s life. The film itself looks raw, like old, worn stock. Aside from the social problems any outcast faces, the most exciting thing to happen to Terri is watching a bird eat dead mice. He’s still got to fiddle with rabbit ear antennas, and this is not a period piece.
Reilly’s persona is perfect for Mr. Fitzgerald because he really wants to be an inspirational tough talker. He means well but has no training for kids who really need help, and there are other students worse off than Terri, from special needs to cries for help.
It becomes a really interesting way to deal with social problems. These are kids who aren’t quite at risk for major issues like suicide or violence, although poor Heather Miles (Olivia Crocicchia) is just shy of full-blown sexual abuse. She grudgingly agrees to third base but you know that comes from a lack of guidance.
Then Chad (Bridger Zadina) comes across so weird just by his tone and attitude. Terri is better off on his own than with a friend like Chad. The film builds to a downright creepy third act with unsupervised drinking, drugging and undressed kids. I found it interesting to go there, on the margins of “edgy” but probably representing where a majority of awkward teens really are.
Jacobs’s simple camera reminds me how much you can show just by presenting a scene. Terri and Heather pass notes in class, and just seeing the handoff demonstrates the progression in their characters’ opening up. It’s funny that they still handwrite emoticons as if they were texting.
Had I seen it during the earlier festivals, Terri would have been overshadowed by the Like Crazys, the Detentions, the Hobos with a Shotguns. I can tell you that so far, it will be one of the better entries of LAFF, certainly worth catching on VOD or a night when all five screens of Transformers 3D are sold out.