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Wednesday, July 6, 2011
The Adventures Of Awkwardness, And Its Lessons
Jacob Wysocki as the title character in Azazel Jacobs' comedy-drama "Terri".
Art Takes Over
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
July 6, 2011
"Terri" is about a young man in
another time, comfortable in his skin. Terri could have been just another
over-sized misfit, but director Azazel Jacobs (and the film's lead actor Jacob
Wysocki) make the title character a touchstone for discovery and understanding.
This coming-of-age comedy-drama digs under the cheerful skin where so many other
similar genre comedy-dramas reside to reveal a strong core of truth and
enlightenment, realistically presented. The film opened in New York and
Los Angeles last week, and will expand its release around the country over the
next few weeks.
"Terri" has a discipline, feel and pace altogether different from many films of its ilk,
and an innate sense of anthropology and archaeology. Terri is always
digging and exploring, whether in a forest where he's often playing, or with
questions to fellow classmates. (Is awkwardness what is out of place in the
or is the world out of step with Terri? Mr. Jacobs, who directed "Momma's
Man", knows how to get inside adolescent dilemmas and separation anxieties
well.) Terri wears pajamas to school and
each day he lumbers in to class a few minutes late, and occasionally not at all.
He's been castoff by his parents and lives with his uncle (Creed Bratton).
Terri's day-to-day struggle is mostly with a few students in his class.
Mr. Jacobs's film explores a journey of realization in a young man who has an enormous
amount of compassion as he aligns with a reviled classmate who has been caught in
some in-class hanky-panky. In "Terri" there's the unspoken language of
Terri's inner voice, which says: Are you
exploring? I am too. Can you help me? Can we help each other?
It's a profoundly human subtext, one that enriches the film's fabric so
very well. There are moments of silence where I felt that Terri's
investigation and empathy were spot-on for this absorbing and insightful film. "Terri" in fact, possesses a more
mature look at growing up
than the film advertises.
As capably directed by Mr. Jacobs, "Terri" is humorous and has the smell of
dankness and life, which pulses through it. I commiserated with the
offending characters whose hands get caught squarely in the cookie jar of
curiosity, even as I was glad they got caught. The film maturely observes the
growth of wrongdoers, the kind who don't do things to be mean, unlike the school
brats you always see in films about adolescents. In those films the bully
(usually propped up by his or her cowardly trio of sycophants) always roams the school halls
and cafeterias like a puritanical government enforcer, wielding a Darwinian
stick, discouraging the very existence of those too weak to stand up for
themselves, let alone explore what life is about. This happens to
an extent in "Terri", but there's something else afoot indicating
free rides bullies get will come to a swift end.
For me "Terri" is less about an awkwardly shaped 15-year-old than it is a
metaphor for delving beyond the surface to experiment not with growing up but
with the purity of what is good, bad and natural. "Terri" is clearly focused on teenage high school kids,
but the concepts of identity, exploration and belonging that Mr. Jacobs builds on here
smart, astute script by Patrick Dewitt)
register on a broader level. Terri is the same as other children in his
class -- he merely dares to be comfortable in his own skin, and explore life in
it and around him. In doing so "Terri" resists a nobility and
righteousness that it so easily could have trumpeted.
what's right and wrong but he's still exploring what is good and bad in the
world. Without his parents, who may not have taught him about the facts of
life or social protocol, Terri is left to discover and find out for
himself what life with other life forms and humans is all about. Terri's
like a big baby, but he's a wise big baby. The film's opening shot shows
Terri in a bathtub. Terri is in the water looking straight ahead.
It's a snapshot and metaphor of this character's roots and the start of his
evolution, as if he's just been born.
John C. Reilly is the school's unorthodox
principal who guides and influences Terri, trying to keep him on the straight
and narrow. Mr. Reilly is sublime in a
parody-like performance of school principals and their typical responses to children who behave
"badly". Yet as Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Reilly also brings a lot more to the
table than meets the eye. As a character he too is investigating the mistakes he's made
in his life, and Mr. Fitzgerald is less a figure of authority than a scrutinizer of adult
responses to insubordination. It's a sharp, clever and funny turn
by Mr. Reilly, one that leavens the suspenseful, weightier terrain "Terri"
treads confidently across. There's a friskiness and father-figure rapport
Mr. Reilly has with Mr. Wysocki, and both are at their best when they are
Mr. Wysocki, in one of his few film acting assignments ever, does well as Terri,
a lumbering soul with a big heart, as do Olivia Crocicchia as Heather, a
sexually adventurous girl that Terri defends and befriends, and Bridger Zadina
as Chad, an insecure, scalp-tugging loner guy. Both of the latter
characters project a palpable volatility and danger, especially Mr. Zadina,
terrific as a teen who experiments and plays his anxieties out to the hilt.
One scene involving the trio of youngsters forms the crux of "Terri", and the
scene is a film unto itself. At about 15 minutes in length, the scene is
marvelously acted, shot, edited and directed.
"Terri" is the real "American Beauty", sliding past that latter film's
synthetic, surface showiness and gimmickry to examine the bowels of the process
of the end of innocence. Stripped bare, "Terri", a delightful, probing
entertainment, mines each of its characters and brings us closer to them.
We identify solidly with them. As an audience watching "Terri" we are not
voyeurs who feel like intruders when watching Sam Mendes' Oscar-winning film; we are as
close to being participants in these characters' lives as they are in their own.
"Terri" may feel like "Stand By Me" in some areas but it has its own
unmistakable voice. Mr. Jacobs' film depicts dread, anticipation and rite-of-passage
so convincingly, earnestly exploring but never falling short of engaging the viewer. I never lost sight of the tutorial of this
film, and "Terri" captures the kinds of feelings that I had as an "other" while in
high school and junior high in England many years ago. Experiences are life, and sometimes they
occur in a place (school) that is all-too-often guilty of
not teaching the lessons that it really should. "Terri" is intelligent enough to recognize
this and activate itself beyond the level of average film, letting
its experiences happen instead of allowing for characters (or an editor) to truncate them.
In "Terri", there isn't glee or celebration in the act of discovery, only
With: Tim Heidecker, Mary Anne McGarry, Justin Prentice, Diane Salinger, Curtiss
Frisle, Tara Karsian, Jenna Gavigan, Lisa Hoover.
"Terri" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for
sexual content, language and some drug and alcohol use -- all involving teens. The film's running time is one
hour and 45 minutes.
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