SXSW Review: Terri

By  · Published on March 14th, 2011

Thinking back on most of the teen dramas I’ve seen I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a personality like Terri. He’s the social outcast, he’s poor, he’s fat, he gets picked on, he’s a pushover, he isn’t particularly good at anything beyond showing up late to school and he goes everywhere in his pj’s. He isn’t just ripe for brutal ostracization, he’s the tree that bears all the types of fruit that get eaten by it.

However, what makes Terri (Jacob Wysocki) different from the represented amalgamation of almost every other outcast characteristic you may have ever seen is his indifference towards everything. He doesn’t get particularly angry particularly often. He holds no pure grudges when he has every right to. He doesn’t bother anyone by drawing further attention to himself. He’s shy and he wants friends and he wishes he could fit in, but he can’t really figure himself out beyond knowing that he really just doesn’t care much about anything.

His persistent tardiness to class and fashion of choice leads to him having some one-on-one’s every Monday with the school’s principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), which is about the time when Terri shifts from being solemn and somewhat depressing to a little more lively. Reilly’s gift of natural rambunctiousness in front of the camera ignites a little fire into the picture and keeps you from dreadfully looking down at your watch so that you can see just how much more uncomfortable strangeness you’ll have to sit through. Things still maintain their serious traits, but Mr. Fitzgerald’s demeanor and intentions lead to the film’s most endearing and honest moments, as well as its most lighthearted and fun ones.

The rest of the picture is hard to pinpoint an emotion or reaction towards. Though the focus is on Terri and how he manages having no friends and taking care of his mentally ill uncle, and his arc from a misunderstood enigma to a slightly more open and expressive individual is where the picture takes you, it’s the relationship that grows between Terri and his principal that takes you there. Even when their growing affection for one another looks like it’s about on the fritz, there’s something that brings you back to both and desire to see them both on screen together despite what caused the characters to get angry at the other in the first place.

That isn’t to say that the whole film is Terri and Fitzgerald. There are some supporting players that offer some occasional color, such as Fitzgerald’s ailing secretary who can barely say “the” without wheezing and then wheezing more so that she can try again, as well as Chad who is one of Terri’s weekly morning compatriots with Mr. Fitzgerald and becomes a much more pivotal character to Terri’s development as the story progresses.

However, once the picture gets to its climactic moment for Terri the sequence starts to drag, and though it’s portrayed honestly and is actually somewhat recognizable to at least one moment in many high schooler’s lives, things reach a level of uncomfortableness that it hadn’t really even hinted at before – which was admittedly unwelcome.

The high school teen drama has its share of odd and eccentric entries. It isn’t a big share, but there are some. Terri is part of that share and there are enough honest and genuine moments played with sincerity and naturalness – quite impressively in fact by lead Jacob Wysocki who makes the Terri character feel incredibly different, yet recognizable – mixed with some much needed energy from John C. Reilly to balance out the the somber tone that make it worthwhile and not just odd for odd’s sake.

The Upside – Unique and engaging in equal measure with some strong performances from a mostly young cast and the entertaining as always John C. Reilly.

The Downside – The third act event drags and is a much more frustratingly uncomfortable experience than anything that came before it.