Terri is the latest entry in the “oh God, high school sucked” genre (will we ever get a film that puts us in the eyes of the “popular” kids?) that tells the story of Terri (Jacob Wysocki), a sullen, picked-on, overweight underachiever who knows as much about who and where his parents are as we do. Terri lives with and cares for his senile Uncle James (The Office’s Creed Bratton); pines for the pretty-girl Heather (Olivia Crocicchia); shares detention with the hair-pulling-kid Chad (Bridger Zadina); and sparks an interest in quirky-assistant-principal Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly). The pieces fit into place, and the actors perform with talent and aplomb.
Unfortunately, Terri doesn’t offer anything new to the genre. As the poster says, “We’ve all been there,” and I suppose we have, whether it be in high school, college, or work. But a thought occurred to me near the end of the film: What is the point of this movie? Is it “Don’t pick on the fat kid”?
Terri isn’t really picked on for the bulk of the film, and those who do pick on him are never punished; they’re simply forgotten. Perhaps it’s the old axiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But no one’s opinion of Terri really changes—even Fitzgerald sees the good in him from the outset.
Maybe it’s a character arc, but Terri doesn’t really change; he’s the same sweet, witty fellow all throughout. The closest the film comes is solidifying the relationship between Terri and Fitzgerald that’s already cemented in the first five minutes.
Broader still, if it’s a comedy, it’s not especially funny; if it’s a drama, it’s not especially poignant. It’s not very entertaining, and it doesn’t make you think.
Terri, along with Beautiful Boy, is the kind of film that makes me want to stand up and ask the theater audience, “Does anyone else find this interminably dull?” Movie critics often bemoan American audiences for ignoring high-brow films, but too often those same critics give any independent film a pass simply because it’s not a Hollywood blockbuster. Just because the movie has long pauses, is quirky, and takes place in the—scare quotes—“real” world does not make it a masterpiece, great, near-great, or even good.
Granted Terri has its exceptional moments, provided by a stellar John C. Reilly, who breathes convincing and at times hilarious life into the film in a performance that may be overlooked, unfairly I might add, by newcomer Jacob Wysocki. Wysocki is good, but honestly his role doesn’t call for much—it’s enough that’s not bad.
Reilly, on the other hand, embodies the dubious function of an assistant principal right down to the condescending half-attempt to speak to the kids not in their own words, but in his lazy perception of how they talk (his every utterance of “dude” is lightly doused with contempt). Fitzgerald is one step above the motivational speaker at a corporate retreat, and with each appearance on screen, you wish he were the protagonist.
And that’s the trouble with Terri.