Terri is a non-typical coming of age story-somewhat reminiscent of American Pie, minus the humor and shallow raunchiness. This is a much more real story of the difficulties of growing up: the terrifying realities of sex, booze, emotions, and tenuous connections.
Terri Thompson (Jacob Wysocki) is a heavy boy who struggles on a daily basis, at home, at school, even alone with himself. In school, he does his best to look invisible: he wears jammies and builds walls to hide behind out of ingredients in home economics. The teachers are, by and large, just not nice at all. Terri is publically mocked by the P.E. teacher, and the boy truly has no friends at all. He inadvertently leads a group to see a boy doing intimate (vulgar for the setting) things to a girl in class. Heather (Rescue Me's Olivia Crocicchia) becomes a social pariah, and Terri standing up for her makes her suddenly aware of him. When all is said and done, Terri is the only one who will now talk to Heather, so they gradually strike up an uncomfortable closeness.
At home, he has a sick, elderly uncle (Creed Bratton from The Office)-with no idea where his parents are. The pajama-clad Terri cooks for him, cares for him, shaves him, feeds pills to him. Never knowing quite what to expect from his uncle is worse than being consistently bad; Terri can have no daily expectations. He is tenderhearted enough to be saddened by the mousetraps his Uncle James makes him set. Eventually, he finds simple joy and curiosity in feeding a hawk with the dead mice (causing him to look for more mice to snap). Unfortunately, the hawk-feeding results in consistently being late for class in the mornings. Between the tardies, the jammies, and the drop in his grades, Terri has grabbed the attention of the Fitzgerald the principal. The plan, then, is to meet together every Monday morning during homeroom to talk.
Surprisingly, it becomes one of the few bright positives in his life, even though Terri chafes at its necessity. "I guess I just wish I didn't need help, ya know?" says Terri after the principal's declaration of help. But he is downright thrilled to have some solid support and what he perceives as friendship, until he learns that the other kids who meet with the principal all have some pretty intense, obvious disabilities or sicknesses.
One of the other boys in the principal's group-Chad (Bridger Zadina), who eats his hair-visits Terri at his house uninvited. Chad is as tiny as Terri is big, and he shows up often to mess things up for Terri, "friend" banner and all. He also quite often goes off the deep end. Terri learns that the special sharing offered by the principal is offered to all of the kids, even though he touts the tired old "I never showed this to any student before." When Terri confronts Fitzgerald, the scene is surprisingly deep and well-portrayed on both sides. Terri gradually builds a true friendship with Fitzgerald, and this moment is the turning point. The meeting between Heather and Terri's uncle is exactly the opposite-more bitter than sweet, and just downright odd and out of place.
Terri has moments of utter sweetness tucked in and around his low self-esteem. It is these moments that make his journey worth following. It could easily degrade into something dull and sappy and melancholy. Watching him try so hard makes it almost worthwhile-trying for his uncle, trying for a hurt girl at school, even trying for himself, in the end. Terri's many moods are entirely believable, proving Jacob Wysocki to be a phenomenal actor. Luckily, he stands beside John C. Reilly as the principal, another solid actor with a huge presence to bring to the screen.
The insightful extra bit "A Look Inside Terri" most definitely adds to the experience of the movie. The deleted scenes tell a story of their own.
While definitely compelling, drawing the viewer into watch it in its entirety, Terri falls short of greatness. It does avoid the Hollywood drama, but it simply tells a story with no concrete beginning or end, no real moral, no clear resolution. There is a minor amount of growth, but Terri is still wearing jammies at the end-smiling, but still wearing jammies and still walking alone. Maybe because he realized he has friends, and that they are all more maladjusted than he is? Maybe he is content with his strangeness? Maybe he is just crazier than before and simply no longer cares? With the oblique storytelling, some events feel like they need a college English class bouncing theories to truly get all of it. If not for the incredible performances put in by Wysocki and Reilly, this could have been an utter waste.
Terri offers an unusual story, holding a small truth for everyone who has ever been hurt while growing up but going off on too many tangents to have a truly cohesive story. The music is rather like taking Prozac-a fake high with no real substance to it, and so is perfect for the film. Terri does have some gifts, but it just gets a little too big for its britches.
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