It’s rare to find a film that delves, with minimal flinching, into what it means to be an outcast. Most of the time, such explorations are tempered with a healthy dose of quirk and whimsy (see: Lars & the Real Girl, Garden State) to make things more palatable. But though it does involve some quirk, complete with oddball characters and a pretty, sort-of-hipster-looking chick, Azazel Jacobs’ Terri commendably drops the whimsy for stark, ugly reality.
Jacob Wysocki stars in the titular role, an overweight, friendless high school student, who, amidst the hum-drum of caring for his dementia-stricken uncle (The Office’s Creed Bratton) and the soul-numbing verbal abuse from classmates, takes to wearing pajamas to school every day. This fairly on-the-nose uniform of the world-weary gets him noticed by John C. Reilly’s concerned guidance counselor, who makes Terri his personal project. Hit the jump for our review of Terri on Blu-ray.
Jacobs and screenwriter Patrick Dewitt craft a film world that sets out to emphasize the monotonous and icky elements of everyday life (both of which do seem to stick out more when we’re not bursting with joy at the very notion of being alive). The tone is set in the opening scene, a lingering shot of a naked Wysocki stuffed into a bathtub seemingly devoid of water, as he patiently tries to talk down his rambling uncle on the other side of the door. The world of Terri is one of vitriolic insults doled out with the casual quality of inane chitchat, dead-eyed secretaries and kids picking out clumps of their own hair like a nervous tick. After spending just a few minutes in it, we’re perfectly clear why he can’t muster up the will power to throw on a pair of slacks.
Despite all this, the film is never really dour. Wysocki, making his big-screen debut, is quietly engaging as the worn down, socially disoriented protagonist. Reilly, meanwhile, makes use of his talent for grounded goofiness, eliciting enough laughs to liven things up when need be without sacrificing his credibility when it comes time for the dramatic heavy lifting; with the exception of Terri’s manic, hair-plucking pal Chad (Bridger Zadina), the former Cal Naughton Jr. is packing about twice the zest of anyone else in the film, that energy spilling over to turn his office into a convincing respite from the drudgery of the rest of the world.
Nonetheless, there is a quiet, unassuming and at times, almost shapeless quality that pervades Terri, which consists largely of a series of underplayed, melancholy-tinged events strung together; at once, it’s what elevates the film beyond similar, more contrived fare and what threatens to plunge it into tedium. There are times when we’re dangerously close to becoming as unenthused about occupying Terri’s world as he is and others when we’re left feeling like the whole endeavour is a little too slight.
However, just when you think the oddball charm might be wearing off for good, Terri gets all verbal with Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), the dream girl he’s been observing from afar through his haze of isolation. She takes a liking to him via a too-cutesy indie courtship that momentarily threatens a trite, predictable conclusion. Instead, we’re gifted an unexpectedly tense slow-burn to a climax that’s about as raw and engrossing a depiction of isolation and the ugliness that it breeds, as you’d ever expect to see in something labeled a “dramedy.” It’s in sequences like this, and an earlier one where Terri develops an odd fascination with killing mice, that the filmmakers truly distinguish themselves by delving into the more confounding, inarticulable aspects of detachment. In large part, such moments are left lingering in ambiguity; suffice it to say, the instinct for connection can take you to some fucked-up places that defy explanation.
Most every character in the film is, in one way or another, fumbling for a way in from the cold. Terri, then, isn’t about a desperate outcast being coaxed out of his shell; it’s about a group of desperate outcasts bumping up against one another to alternately healing and poisonous effect. I probably won’t be spoiling anything to say that a story like this isn’t the type to offer a happily-ever-after. Loneliness is a deeply ingrained condition that doesn’t disappear when a pretty girl gives you the time of day. It’s a credit to the filmmakers that the best resolution they can offer their put-upon hero is a step in the right direction.