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by Jay Seaver

"You have to watch out for the quiet ones."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2011: Earlier in this festival (and on many other occasions), I saw a movie about an eccentric kid growing up, and it was kind of annoying; even if inspired by actual people, the characters seemed like adult screenwriters. So it's something of a relief to say that "Terri", for all its oddball tendencies, does have the ring of truth about it. It's not an all-time great coming-of-age movie, but it's at least populated by recognizable human beings.

Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is kind of isolated from the other kids; not only is he overweight, but he lives way off the main road with his uncle James (Creed Bratton), and Uncle James is getting to the point where his memory (among other things) has a pretty wide gap between the good days and bad days. When he shows up late for school wearing his pajama top for a shirt, he's sent to the principal's office, and Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) decides to take a personal interest in him, meeting up with him once a week, like he does with some other kids such as Chad (Bridger Zadina). And while Terri's not in any particular trouble, he does manage to sort of be around it, when his staring leads to a kid with the charming nickname of "Dirty Zach" (Justin Prentice) being caught fingering his girlfriend Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) in home ec class.

Though Terri and the other characters can be kind of unusual at times, it's never a particularly forced oddity. These kids (and educators) are distinct individuals with their own particular issues and quirks, but should at least feel like familiar types from one's own school days. Director Azazel Jacobs, screenwriter Patrick Dewitt, and the cast manage the tricky balance between the familiar and the unique here, with the only real exception being Mr. Fitzgerald - even by the standards of dedicated and unorthodox film educators, he's a bit on the odd side.

Fortunately, he's played by John C. Reilly, in a role that seems tailor-made for him. For the character to work, the audience has to believe both that there is a method to his madness and that Fitzgerald couldn't act any differently if he tried. Reilly manages that near-perfectly; he makes just about every scene he's in funnier, if only by his body language; Fitzgerald is terribly uncomfortable having to play the role of a disciplinarian in a button-down shirt but is also not suited for doing anything else. He never tips off whether he's crazy like a fox or just plain out there in a given scene, and his desire to do right despite often being in over his head makes him quite likable.

Despite Reilly being the most recognizable name, Jacob Wysocki is the one playing the title character, and the movie rests on his performance. It's not as broad a performance as Reilly's, but the two play off each other well. Wysocki gets the youth of Terri right, in that he's frequently a sullen kid but subject of bursts of intense emotion that aren't particularly directed. He's quite good at getting across that not only has Terri not seen or done a certain thing before, but that the feelings that go with it are new, too. He's a guy who has perhaps had more responsibilities forced upon him than his contemporaries, but is certainly not wise beyond his years.

The rest of the cast does better than one might expect, especially Creed Bratton. There's a tiny scene near the end, when James is having a very clear day and doesn't want to waste it, that is both an impressively rendered detail and something whose secondary impact may not hit the audience until later. The job Jacobs, Dewitt, and Crocicchia do with Heather is also admirable; she's not secretly a misfit herself, and the changes she goes through are organic, coming from within herself as opposed to her being what the story needs at the moment.

There are a couple of other scenes like that one with Bratton, things which become sharper when the film is looked at as a whole. It would be nice if there were more, though; as good as many individual moments are, there are a couple of stretches toward the end, right in a row, that drag on, stumbling soul-baring that lacks the wit or ingenuity of previous scenes, and moments from earlier in the film that don't earn their setup time back in the end. It's not quite a squandering of good will as much as a feeling that the movie never quite makes the jump to the next level, considering that the other bits gain in reflection.

And those bits that do work do improve upon further examination. "Terri" manages to be quietly impressive in many cases, especially where Wysocki and Reilly are concerned. If only it were just as good when it means to be loud.

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originally posted: 06/02/11 13:46:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

1/24/11 Kathy Warm and very funny. A must see! 5 stars
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  01-Jul-2011 (R)
  DVD: 11-Oct-2011


  DVD: 11-Oct-2011

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