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.