“TERRI” is a movie that grounds you within a world, which carries a simultaneously sad and beautiful reality all wrapped into 105 minutes. In the caring arms of ATO Pictures, director Azazel Jacobs (“Momma’s Man”) and the team behind “Blue Valentine” and “Half Nelson,” the film, at times painfully awkward but reigning in deep hues of candor, triumphs in its composition and characters’ execution.
At the Michigan
The sound of trickling water adapts into an image of an overweight teenager submerged in a bathtub, face deadpan with apathy. We soon find out that this is title character, Terri Thompson (Jacob Wysocki, TV’s “Huge”), who lives with and takes care of his mentally ill but sarcastic and insightful Uncle James (Creed Bratton, TV’s “The Office”).
As the film gently progresses from the opening scene to Terri arriving at high school homeroom tardy, derogatorily whistled at by his classmates, classical soprano female vocals pervade our auditory senses setting an offbeat mood for “TERRI,” a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Female intrigue sparks up the energy of the cinematic space when we see Terri peering through flour and baking soda in Home Economics, eyes unblinking as he watches Heather Miles (Olivia Crocicchia, TV’s “Rescue Me”) push her boyfriend’s hands away from underneath the table. An instant dislike for the guy who has previously verbally harassed Terri, develops as he says, “It’s the perfect moment.” Heather says, “No.” He whispers aggressively, “Yes.” A lesson on sexual consent? Almost feels that way.
Fifteen minutes in, the movie begins. John C. Reilly (“Magnolia”) enters the picture as Principal Fitzgerald, who calls Terri in to discuss the boy’s worrisome “red flags”: grade drops, no class participation and pajamas as public attire. The film’s base is established when “Fitzer” explains why he asked Terri to meet — “Every year there are two groups of kids that stand out here … there’s the good-hearted kids and there’s the bad-hearted kids.” The rest of the story is a sort of indirect response to Terri’s response to his principle’s statement, “And which one am I?”
The audience undergoes a sympathetic experience as Terri sets mice traps, spells cheddar incorrectly on the grocery list, shaves Uncle James’ face and gets kicked out of gym because he wouldn’t participate in high jump.
The pace of the film picks up speed about halfway through when Terri sticks up for Heather as she becomes somewhat of a social outcast because of an embarrassing act. Not only does he win Heather’s friendship and admiration when he diverts negative attention from her in school by doing a comedic Joe Hollywood gimmick, but also befriends a perverted but lovable kid, Chad (newcomer Bridger Zadina), who also meets with Mr. Fitzgerald on a weekly basis.
Heather invites herself over to Terri’s to meet his uncle, and when Chad impels the trajectory of the evening, the plot hits a startling but sincere tone of edginess.
The movie ends on a pleasant note of Fitzgerald and Terri shooting hoops, eating cheeseburgers and talking about the intimate folds of life. Supported by eloquent filming, “TERRI” subtly succeeds as a unique portrayal of the ugly and the beautiful, of every human being wanting to fit in and feel wanted.