Film Review: Terri

Weirdness for weirdness’ sake is celebrated here with an unsavory relish that is anything but viewer-friendly.

High-school bullying victims have become a favorite movie subject these days, and the latest is Terri, an obese loner played by Jacob Wysocki. Terri lives with and takes care of his senile Uncle James (Creed Bratton), and has taken to wearing pajamas to school, which only exacerbates the jeers to which he seems immune. His frequent tardiness prompts a visit to assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), who already has an office full of misfits. One of them, chronically obnoxious Chad (Bridger Zadina), becomes a sort-of friend to Terri, as does, improbably, pretty blonde Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), who has become a pariah after being seen giving it up in home-economics class.

If a new movie code were instituted prohibiting quirkiness from indie films, 80% of them would never get made, and Terri would be among the offenders with its fearsomely calculated dark whimsy. Azazel Jacobs’ direction and Patrick deWitt’s script overlook no opportunity for behavioral weirdness, creating an unappetizing, clammy adolescent ambiance which the intermittent, heavy-handed flights of lyricism do nothing to alleviate. If anything in the film were remotely funny or emotionally true, this might have been affecting, but instead you see actors encouraged to be as wacka-doo as possible in a particularly viewer-alienating manner.

Chief offender is Reilly, who has a tiresomely over-the-top field day with Mr. Fitzgerald’s unorthodox counseling methods, half tough-love, half “I’m a mess too, so I can relate.” Bratton staggers and dribbles in a stereotypical portrait of aged infirmity. Zadina revels in Chad’s creepiness and Crocicchia, although fetching, cannot quite convince us that her ostracism would make her find Terri attractive enough to come on to.

That the actress is almost successful here is largely due to the fact that Wysocki is actually the best thing in the movie, with the ethereal face of a Raphael angel so at odds with his copious body, and an innate sweetness which carries him through endless fraught and embarrassing situations. The blank, reactive canvas the filmmakers have him portraying is an easy cliché, yet the actor manages to invest it with heart and sensitivity, unlike everything going on around him.