Ebertfest 2012 – Terri

Terri

It takes courage to be yourself when others want you to change, and it take courage to change when you realize that you’re no longer the same person you used to be.  Terri is a story about an obese teen who also isn’t easily accepted.  However, since Terri (Jacob Wysocki) wears nothing but pajamas to school, he certainly doesn’t seem concerned what others think.  He lives with an uncle who suffers from a form of dementia, leaving Terri with almost nobody to connect with except other kids with issues and a sympathetic, well-meaning vice principal.  Played perfectly by John C. Reilly, the vice principal makes an effort to connect with students who have trouble fitting in and also tries to get those kids to help each other and make his job a little easier because, as he says, we all screw up but we’re doing the best we can.

Terri starts to connect with others when he witnesses two students engaged in a sexual act in class.  When it seems Heather, the girl involved, will be expelled from school, Terri steps up and informs the vice principal that she may have been an unwilling participant.  This helps Terri gain his first friend, and she’s about the cutest friend a high school guy could ever want.  The adorable Olivia Crocicchia plays the not-so adored Heather who is willing to let almost any guy do almost anything just for some attention.  They team up with a very skinny Chad (Bridger Zadina), who also has issues, and they all share a bonding experience in an attempt at self exploration and typical teenage experimentation.  Although things go a little too far and some poor choices are made, they all learn something.  Except Chad, who only learns that he needs new pants.

Terri is a sensitive story about being comfortable with yourself and making the best of what you have, even if it’s not what you want or you aren’t yet sure what you want.  Terri doesn’t have cable tv or video games.  Although he prefers to read classics like Gulliver’s Travels in an old, dusty shed, he’s willing to watch grainy and fuzzy tv shows when he can adjust the rabbit ears well enough when Chad comes over unexpectedly.  Heather also comes over for a visit when she learns about Terri’s uncle, played by Creed Bratton from The Office.  It’s sort of a date, Terri’s first, until Chad crashes the party.

This was not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that thought.  Early in the film, Terri was lumbering a little clumsily through a wooded area on his way to school.  To be polite, I’ll just say he doesn’t move easily, especially on hills.  There were laughs in the audience when there likely should not have been.  In certain contexts, it could be seen as funny, but the audience should have been more aware of this film’s goal.  One of Chad’s issues was pulling his hair, results being some bare spots on his scalp.  That was also difficult to watch, but that was also part of the goal here.  If we’re going to gain an understanding of the issues of today’s teens, we’re going to have to get a little bit of a slap in the face.

In the Q&A after the film, someone asked director Azazel Jacobs about using comedians in non-comedic roles, like Bratton playing the uncle with dementia.  One way to be funny is to remain serious when everything around you is not.  That’s what Bratton does on The Office.  Sometimes being funny is knowing when not to do anything, being a straight man.  Terri is also a straight man, or a straight boy.  He shows us who he is and doesn’t ask us to do anything other than accept him without judgments, as he certainly would not judge you.  He might spy on you in class, but if you’ve got your hand between a girl’s legs – or hers between yours – then you better expect to be judged as damn lucky.

I overheard someone in the audience say that they were disappointed with Terri because they don’t like obscure endings that don’t seem to resolve anything and allow a movie to just ramble on without a specific conclusion.  To that, I’ll say this:  pay attention right up until they fade out or you might miss something that makes the ending more solid.  It’s very subtle visually but not emotionally.  When I talked to Wysocki about the film the next day and told him this story, he was very glad that I was able to see what I’m referring to.  He was worried that it wasn’t prominent enough.  Unfortunately he’s right.  It could be easily missed.

16 thoughts on “Ebertfest 2012 – Terri

  1. Very interesting for me to read this critique of the film. It’s the sort of film I could never watch myself. I have trouble watching movies about children or youth because of my own past. But at least, I was able to enjoy your recap and evaluation… and I’m glad to hear that some movies are being made in the states, that reach for a higher level than violence, action, and mayhem. Thank you.

  2. We actually skipped out on this one and went to see Casablanca play at a theater nearby. I had already seen Terri earlier this year, but I am bummed I missed out on the Q&A for it.

  3. This movie sounds right up my alley. As an educator, I wrestle with seeing how students treat other students all the time. I wish there were more “unlikely friendships,” but someone has to be really secure in the the peer group in order to make that happen. I would LOVE to see this. It looks like something SXSW would love, and now I have to find out where I cab get my hands on it.

    I’m here from Susie Lindau’s place. 😉 Nice to meet you!

    • and to meet you too. partly why i saw it was because of my years in education and always trying to help the silent kids find a voice. i always made an effort to look for those kids who sat quietly, intimidated by others, and help them stand up a little taller. thanks for stopping by.

  4. nice review. it seems that some movies like the one describe seem to fall short at their goals because they do take the funny moments and and make them too comical, as you suggested. it seems that this film has a good balance.

  5. After reading this, I am definitely going to have to look for this one to rent. I have never heard of this movie. I loved Blue Valentine, and this one looks as emotionally complex with a side order of funny. Also, you are right about paying attention through the entirety of the movie, but I actually happen to enjoy truly obscure endings. I may trick myself in to thinking I am mad that no conclusion was handed to me, but I eventually enjoy the fact that I get to infer my own endings.

    • yup. obscure endings can be fun, just as you explained. and because of your brilliance, i’m sure you’re the bestest infererer evererer.

  6. Without having seen the movie your review was well written and it is the sort of movie i would watch. reminds of a film from a few years past called “Precious”..
    nice job you movie reporter you!!

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