Terri is a smart, strong film from indie up and comer Azazel Jacobs that may pass under most moviegoers’ radar, but deserves a wider audience. A coming-of-age comedy that takes its cues from another time, the story follows Terri (Jacob Wysocki), an overweight, pajama-clad boy who, while shuffling his way through middle school, is taken under the wing of assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly). As Terri builds a relationship with his mentor Fitzgerald, his life seemingly falls apart, as he deals with his mentally ill uncle and guardian (Creed Bratton), and a crush on an equally self-destructive friend (Olivia Crocicchia). A tender, honest look at adolescence, the film resonated more deeply with me than any offering in recent history, seemingly worlds away from ABC Family.
Simply put, Terri’s script feels authentic. When Terri tells Mr. Fitzgerald he is in need of help, it’s not a monologue, but a simply whispered “I have trouble coming to school.” We don’t learn that Terri’s parents are deadbeats, instead he tells his friend Chad (Bridger Zadina) that “I don’t know” what happened to them. There is far more being communicated in these small words than a page of text could do. That the story neither resolves itself nor comes to a satisfying conclusion evinces a truth far stronger than any quick ending could have.
None of these telling details would mean anything without such a strong cast. Reilly is both hilarious and self-effacing as Mr. Fitzgerald. Jacob Wysocki’s taciturn Terri really proves that less is more. Even the supporting actors, eccentricities and all, feel like they belong to this odd world of middle school limbo. That Jacobs was able to control these characters, and create that mood speaks to a great gift. But it’s Jacobs’ quiet empathy that I am most drawn to. He doesn’t make us love his characters, but he doesn’t draw back in ironic distaste either. He steps back and lets the actors let us into their worlds—a far more powerful move than any ham-fisted directing. I can’t wait to see what else he comes up with.