I would forgive you for avoiding Terri based on its marketing copy. There’s the banal tagline — “You don’t have to fit in to belong” — and the vague, insufferable character descriptions of a “quirky outsider,” a “goofy and wildly irreverent vice principal” and a “beautiful misfit” that sound like the trappings of every other cookie-cutter indie quirk-fest that’s emerged over the last decade.
I probably wouldn’t have given Terri a second thought if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to see two of director Azazel Jacobs’ first features, the deadpan DIY comedy The Good Times Kid and the atmospheric Momma’s Man. Seeing his name in the credit block for Terri, I was instantly interested, and while it’s certainly a step toward the mainstream for Jacobs, Terri is another affecting, idiosyncratic film that defies the lazy descriptors it’s been saddled with.
Relative newcomer Jacob Wysocki stars as Terri, an overweight high-schooler who’s taken to wearing pajamas to school and isn’t able to muster much interest in being there. He lives with his Uncle James (Creed Bratton), whose mind wanders a razor-thin membrane between dementia and lucidity, and is probably the closest thing he has to a friend.
At school, the overeager principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) takes an interest in Terri and sets up regular meetings with him, inadvertently lumping him in with a group of social outcasts that includes the manic Chad (Bridger Zadina), much to Terri’s chagrin. And then there’s the girl — a cute blonde named Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) who becomes an outcast herself after a very public sexual shaming by her boyfriend.
Now, even a cursory description of the plot seems to set up a very distinct — and totally obvious — kind of story in which we discover that everyone is a misfit to some extent and even those on the fringes of the social construct are special, valuable people who have a lot to offer. But Terri isn’t that kind of film. It has the courage to present Terri not as some secret savant, but just a normal kid, with behavior that’s both admirable and despicable. Nor is his social status ascribed to some kind of popularity scale, where he’s rejected because he’s fat. If anything, he’s just not all that into other people.
This makes for a much more authentic feel, which extends to all the major characterizations, including Reilly’s Mr. Fitzgerald, whose attempts at being a mentor are inconsistent at best. This is the kind of part that Reilly rules, and his nervous, well-intentioned energy laced with a significant dose of narcissism is wonderfully realized. Also fantastic is Bratton, who is an underused comic weapon on The Office, but here proves himself quite capable of portraying a decaying mental state with a subtle touch. Wysocki too doesn’t depend on any prepackaged character tics, instead crafting a quietly layered performance punctuated by moments of simple joy.
Jacobs has a knack for evoking these kinds of performances and for creating a world a world in which they can flourish. In Terri, he creates a distinctly cinematic space — Terri’s house is nestled in a forest and it lends much of the film a dreamlike tone — that also feels like the real world. The film’s climactic set-piece — a hazy, whiskey- and Alzheimer-meds-fueled moment for three of the film’s characters in a shed late into the night — displays this dichotomy perfectly. It’s a cinematic altered state, but the awkward, messy realities of youth come through loud and clear.
The Blu-ray Disc
Terri is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Tobias Datum’s earthy photography looks pretty nice here, and though the image tends to be a little soft at points, the transfer faithfully replicates the theatrical look of the film. Fine detail is solid and the sun-dappled California color palette is nicely rendered. I did spot what appears to be an encode error at one point near the beginning of the film when Terri first sees Mr. Fitzgerald in the form of a small, split-second visual glitch. Definitely shouldn’t have slipped by quality control, but hardly the end of the world.
Audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD track that offers subtle use of surrounds and clean, clear front channel dialogue.
A brief making-of features some behind-the-scenes footage as well as interviews with Jacobs and Wysocki. A handful of deleted scenes are also included.
The Bottom Line
Another excellent film by one of the most promising up-and-coming American directors, Azazel Jacobs’ Terri will hopefully lead to even more opportunities for the filmmaker.