Bridger Zadina, Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly in Terri (ATO Pictures)
Terri is a film, which tells a very low-key, stripped-down and honest account of teenage ostracism and the perils of adolescence which is refreshingly devoid of convention and condescension. In the film you get an honest portrayal of how facile ostracism is, how sudden it can be and an honest look at how it’s dealt with if it’s dealt with at all.
The film has a very deliberate and precise construction at the beginning of the film to illustrate the lack of variety and proclivity to be routine-bound, in Terri’s life. We see from the very start that breakdowns in communication are a major factor in the difficulties he’s facing. When an obsession he has boarders on sociopathy his uncle, played brilliantly by Creed Bratton, is at a loss for words to adequately express what his true disappointment is. Similarly, his homeroom teacher (Tara Karsian) can see he’s bullied and how it affects him but is too beaten down and burned out to do anything about it. It’s these kinds of subtle accurate portrayals that you get in Terri that make the story truly work.
It deals with adolescence not with histrionics or apologies but with understanding and sincerity. A lot of what happens in the movie just happens and there is little to no commentary about it by the characters through much of it so it avoids, by a wide margin, both sensationalism and pandering.
The acting in this film overall is quite brilliant. There is a healthy mix of new faces, tried and true character actors and one notable name in perhaps the most pivotal role. The latter, of course, would be John C. Reilly who plays the well-intentioned but imperfect assistant principal who takes it upon himself to have weekly meetings with the school’s more troubled students. His monologue about his imperfections is so truthful and beautiful it got me teary-eyed out of the blue and although it is a function of the movie to create drama, the fact that he is the one person in the school who does try does ring a little true and there are some wonderful surprises in store from his character.
Then, of course, you have the lead Jacob Wysocki as Terri. Whenever you have an eponymous character you need that character and that performance to connect and for there to be some kind of universal resonance and there most certainly is here. In this film a lot of Terri’s maladjustment on the surface is something many can relate to. The root cause is that he feels like an outsider or freak due to his weight but the symptoms socially and otherwise are ones many can relate to: having difficulty making friends, talking to girls, academics and so on. There’s a timidity and amiableness to both the character and the performance that makes him connect even when he’s making a mistake.
There are also two very strong turns from classmates of Terri’s Bridger Zadina as Chad and Olivia Crocicchia as Heather. The former perhaps runs a larger emotional gamut and has a character whose strangeness and backstory is never defined so the fact that he arrives in place where his performance always feels organic and never contrived is quite a feat in and of itself. Zadina always finds himself in a place where he’s rebelling against the status quo yet there’s a depth and sensitivity to his portrayal that makes Chad equally compelling to the other characters. Crocicchia as Heather also has a lot to do and not much time to do it in and is natural and convincing in all stages from popular girl, to depressed and marginalized to just another student who blends into the background.
It’s the building of these characters which allows for the film to bifurcate yet do it so successfully. One part of the film is very much a cloistered, private confessional between Terri and Mr. Fizgerald (Reilly) and then towards the end there’s a long sequence that’s reminiscent of a modern, private, more exclusive Breakfast Club wherein these characters exorcise their demons over the course of a night and similarly bare their souls.
Perhaps, what’s most intelligent about the film is that it offers no easy answers. There’s no real resolution to it just as there’s no real resolution to adolescent angst. They just all reach a point from which they can move on to a new and hopefully better chapter in their life and that might be what sticks with you most about the film. It’s that fact upon reflection I connected with most and I feel that adolescents who see it would too.