SXSW 2011 Review: TERRI
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is different, but in ways so slight they are almost off-putting. He is sweet in the way he cares for his ailing Uncle James (Creed Bratton), but then in turn takes uncomfortable pleasure in trapping and killing mice. Terri is never unkempt, but he prefers wearing pajamas rather than clothes. One thing is clear - Terri is missing a role model in his life. As if on cue, Assistant Principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) makes it a point to make himself a regular part of Terri’s life.
Although hesitant at first, Terri quickly takes to their weekly meetings and it becomes obvious that he was in desperate need for someone to take an interest in him. Mr. Fitzgerald explains that he views the students as falling into one of two categories, good-hearted versus bad-hearted. He feels Terri falls into the first group and pitches the idea of their meetings as a way to help him keep his good-hearted nature despite all the bad surrounding him.
Unfortunately, before Terri can make any real progress with Mr. Fitzgerald, he comes to realize that he is not the only student having these weekly meetings and he does not like the students he is now considered in the same company of. Despite this setback, the bond formed with Mr. Fitzgerald is not easily broken and Terri finds himself seeking out his council even when he does not want to admit he needs it. Chad (Bridger Zadina) is one of the students also getting counseling from Mr. Fitzgerald and makes an effort to try and befriend Terri. After a rocky start, the two eventually form a quasi-friendship simply based on the fact that neither has anyone else.
When Terri notices once-popular Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) fall from her status due to a slightly scandalous incident in class, Terri immediately reaches out to her. It is difficult to determine whether Terri does this because he himself understands what it is like to be an outcast or because he sees an opportunity to explore his crush. It is this constant blurred line that keeps the audience from really connecting with Terri and understanding his character.
After an alcohol- and drug-fueled night at Terri’s house, Terri, Heather and Chad find themselves revealing a lot of clichés without really opening up about themselves. The scene plays out awkwardly and never impacts any character enough to warrant the amount of time spent watching each making fools out of themselves. As the climatic moment of the film, it falters to bring any character to a new point or understanding in their lives or relationships with each other.
Newcomer Wysocki does give a note worthy performance that had a sense of honesty which saved many scenes that could have otherwise fallen flat on their face. Wysocki’s scenes with Reilly are some of the best in the film, but their characters did not feel fleshed out enough to make a real connection with either the audience or each other. Reilly’s character flat out lies to his students at times and in doing so, takes away any trust or faith we could have in him to be the anchor to help this rag-tag trio as they struggle through adolescence.
TERRI is an odd film that never quite makes a point of its oddities. It is never made clear what each character’s motivations are or why they behave in the ways that they do. What Mr. Fitzgerald tries to do for these kids he fears are falling through the cracks is admirable, but it always had a slight air of creepiness to it that kept it from really resonating. Every time a moment in the film tried to show its heart, it felt off, keeping the film from being sweet and instead being just plain strange.