The pitfalls and indignities of adolescence remain evergreen subjects at the movies, flexible enough to wring laughs and tears—sometimes in quick succession. Even when a teen dramedy turns out on the lackluster side, like Azazel Jacobs’ Terri, audience goodwill tends to make up the difference. After all, in one way or another, we’ve all been there.
Working from a script by Patrick Dewitt (itself adapted from his own short stories), Jacobs quietly accumulates the details surrounding the steady mortification of an obese teen. Fifteen-year-old Terri (Jacob Wysocki) appears to have stopped hoping for better, reflected in his daily style choice of pajamas. No one is raising him—to the contrary, Terri wearily cares for his mentally deteriorating Uncle James (Creed Bratton of The Office)—and, at school, he’s the easy target of punks who see the social value in ridiculing an outcast.
Assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) takes notice of Terri and calls him in to the office for what becomes a standing appointment. Terri slowly warms to the awkward administrator, who, despite his strange ways, can be semi-assuring in dispensing his home-grown philosophy: “Life’s a mess, dude. But we’re all just doing the best we can.” Though his demeanor remains cautiously reserved, Terri begins to allow his heart to hope for the better.
While deciding how far he can trust Fitzgerald, the teen loner suddenly finds himself with two new friends, each providing a new thrill of possibility. Scrawny hair-plucker Chad (Bridger Zadina) counters Terri’s deadpan placidity with fidgety energy and fearless pursuit of stimulation, but Terri’s a bit conflicted about inhabiting the island of misfits where Fitzgerald seems to think they belong. Much more appealing is the attention of the attractive Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), who shows sudden interest in Terri after he defends her in the wake of a sociosexual catastrophe. When the three teens come together one night, their chemistry proves volatile.
In its broader strokes and, at times, broad jokes, Terri isn’t so far away from a commercial teen dramedy. And yet, Azazel unfolds most of the film in a slow and deliberate manner that can come across as self-consciously “indie.” Some will long for the balance to tip one way or another, to more cutting satire or to more richly developed relationships, but Azazel seems content to set the scene and poke around it like a documentarian or, perhaps, a gamer exploring a virtual environment. As such, Terri can be unsettling, not least because of the suspicion the whole thing may be as aimless as it is sympathetic.
Reilly gives his character a sturdy, if familiar, comic construction (built on the solid ground of emotional realism). He gets as good as he gives in amusingly baffled reactions to Wysocki, whose Terri can be as frustratingly imperturbable as Bartelby, the Scrivener. Though Terri doesn’t have the reassuring clarity of a straight path from starting block to finish line, its fits and starts are pretty good.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]
Terri makes its Blu-ray debut in a humble special edition that nevertheless excels in the A/V department. Picture quality is surprisingly sharp, with its image sourced from a 35mm element and handled with care. Color is subtle but rich, black level deep and contrast well balanced, and textures eye-catching, with no distracting digital artifacting on display. The emphasis of the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundscape is squarely on dialogue, with a secondary focus on the folksy score; that said, the mix does include some rear-channel activity to help set the scenes.
Bonus features are limited to the making-of featurette "A Look Inside Terri" (10:29, HD)—which includes set footage and interviews with star Jason Wysocki and director Azazel Jacobs—and a roundup of "Deleted Scenes" (7:40, SD).
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