The basic ingredients are familiar in “Terri,” director Azazel Jacobs’ take on the indie coming-of-age dramedy. But thanks to the distinctively gentle, lyrical and humanity-rich tones with which Jacobs presents his misfit protagonist’s trip through the straits of adolescence, this is a movie filled with surprises.
Jacobs, whose “Momma’s Boy” featured a grown man and new father unable to handle his adult responsibilities, again explores issues of childhood, adulthood and the area between them, this time focusing on outsider teenagers. The screenwriter is novelist Patrick DeWitt (adapting his stories); the setting is a woodsy, cinematographer-friendly area of Southern California; and the story focuses on the everyday dips and bumps in the life of an uninvolved, oversize high-schooler.
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a good-hearted but derailed teen who lives with and cares for his ailing uncle (Creed Bratton) and wears pajamas to school. Perpetually tardy, he walks with a slow shuffle that seems less due to his size than to his lack of any reason to possess a bounce in his step.
Terri’s self-acceptance journey begins with a summons to the office of the assistant principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), a grown-up oddball who counsels problem cases. Beneath his yelling exterior (to impress his elderly secretary) and a chummy approach that sometimes backfires, Mr. Fitzgerald proves a caring mentor who helps Terri embrace his individuality and engage with the world.
Terri develops friendships with two other outcasts: angry wild-child Chad (Bridger Zadina) and ostracized, sexually provocative Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). In a highlight passage, the three teens share
a substance-fueled, potentially disastrous night of adolescent experimentation and spontaneity, both exhilarating and terrifying.
Storywise, this is pretty standard indie fare. Outsider teens bumble and bond their way toward a slightly brighter place. The unlikely boy gets some intimate time with the
It could use more-detailed backstories. As is, it’s hard to get a handle on wacko Chad, for starters.
But all said, the movie is a believable depiction of the predicaments of adolescence and a winning appreciation of misfithood.
Jacobs and his actors create tender, funny and observant dynamics that keep us absorbed and caring, and the film’s unhurried pacing and spare plotting enable us to feel involved rather than yanked around. Scenes in which Heather and Terri write friendly notes to each other in class, in their 15-year-old handwriting, are charmers. When Chad crashes Terri’s date of sorts with Heather, or when the kids have their all-nighter, what transpires is tense, unpredictable and scary.
The young actors give impressive performances in tune with Jacobs’ tone. Sympathetic but never sentimental, Wysocki merits top mention.
And Reilly’s Mr. Fitzgerald is an entertaining goofball, along with being something deeper.
Starring Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Bridger Zadina, Olivia Crocicchia
Written by Patrick DeWitt
Directed by Azazel Jacobs
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes