Terri (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Terri’s life is in a state of transition. When Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is asked where his mother and father are, he answers, “I don’t know” with a painful honesty and vulnerability. In the meantime, he is living with Uncle James (Creed Bratton), who exhibits signs of old age and a mood disorder. At school, he is teased by his peers for being obese and having breasts bigger than most girls. When he starts the habit of going to school in pajamas and being late for class, he is sent to Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), the vice principal, who, surprisingly, can genuinely relate to the outcasts in the school.

Based on the screenplay by Patrick Dewitt and directed by Azazel Jacobs, “Terri” is a wonderfully muffled coming-of-age film–at least for the most part.

It is easy to be able to sympathize with Terri’s loneliness. He has acquaintances he knows from class but no friends with whom he can speak to about his deep thoughts. He stares into nothingness quite often. Perhaps he thinks about his parents, where they are and what they’re doing; maybe he is worried about his uncle leaving him, either by choice or the natural way; or maybe he is simply bored from doing the same thing every day. He walks along the school hallways like a zombie and, when confronted, he runs away like Frankenstein’s monster.

Terri’s physicality, specifically, his obesity, is not utilized in a malicious way. Yes, he is teased but it’s impossible not to feel anger or frustration when his classmates make jokes about his body. The fact is, there are overweight teens at school and I think it’s important that they be represented.

Terri is a kind person. When Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) is caught being fingered by one of the boys in class, her reputation takes a dive. Instead of laughing at her to her face or behind her back, Terri identifies with her being pariah. Their relationship, in an interesting way, straddles romance and friendship quite nicely. Their tender moments are something that I might have seen in class if we happen to share the same table.

Unfortunately, the last thirty minutes drops its humble and simple elegance. Terri, Heather, and Chad (Bridger Zadina), a weird kid with a tendency of plucking the hair off his head whom Terri met at Mr. Fitzgerald’s office, hang out at Uncle James’ house and eventually turn to alcohol and drugs. The decision to turn the characters toward the direction of excess feels completely off because up until that point, drugs and alcohol are not even acknowledged. (Other than Uncle James needing to take medicine for his condition.)

The scene that focuses on the experimentation drags and is tonally awkward. Although I tried to connect the dots, what the filmmakers attempt to communicate–assuming that they are communicating something–is vague. For instance, when offered pills so that he can feel good, Terri responds, “But I already feel good” with a certain tone of authority. Is the material making a statement that some teens just do not feel the need to take drugs to have a great time with their friends? If so, there are not enough scenes to support this claim… as well as the contrary for that matter.

Despite the critical misstep in the third act, “Terri” has morsels of wise advice sprinkled throughout about how to live’s one’s life when it is shaken and the pressure feels unbearable. It does get better, if you want and choose to, one day at a time.

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