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The Independent Critic

John C. Reilly, Jacob Wysocki, Creed Bratton, Bridger Zadina and Olivia Crocicchia
Azazel Jacobs
Azazel Jacobs, Patrick Dewitt
Rated R
105 Mins.
ATO Pictures
Eight minutes of deleted scenes; "A Look Inside Terri," a 10-minute making-of that is mainly an interview with director Azazel Jacobs, with a few interspersed comments from actor Jacob Wysocki

 "Terri" Review 
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is an outsider. Abandoned by his father to care for his uncle (Creed Bratton), Terri only occasionally goes to school and when he does is usually wearing pajamas "because they fit."

Now then, before you start groaning to yourself "Not another outsider flick," you should know that co-writer and director Azazel Jacobs' Terri is one of the most engaging and involving of this occasionally tiresome sub-genre to come along in quite some time. While the story is frequently simplistic and the film pretty much follows the paint-by-numbers formula for this type of flick, Jacobs is gifted with a convincing performance by lead Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly at the top of his game. While Terri won't be found anywhere near this year's Academy Awards, it would be surprising to not see the film recognized when the Independent Spirit Awards come around.

Reilly plays Assistant Principal Fitzgerald, a bit of an awkward chap himself, who initially calls Terri into his office for discipline yet who seems to find a bit of a cellular connection with the disengaged and generally dissed young man with no friends yet an obviously strong character. Before long, Terri has acquired a couple of friends in the form of rebellious outsider Chad (Bridger Zadina) and beautiful yet troubled Heather (Olivia Crocicchia).

One of the true joys of watching Terri is in watching relationships develop that change lives, not necessarily in the super and ginormous ways so often found in these types of ways but in the smaller, simpler ways that sort of bring to mind that recent media campaign "It Gets Better." Terri doesn't become a superhero in any literal sense by film's end, but he does survive a challenging period in his life thanks to his often equally awkward and unorthodox assistant principal and newfound friends.

Terri works mostly because the actors make it work. Jacob Wysocki offers an intelligent, insightful and unusually moving performance as Terri, a performance that is less dramatic yet reminiscent of Gabourey Sidibe's in Precious (and not because they both have the common factor of being overweight). Terri's drama is more subtle than was that of Precious, yet there's an underlying tension in Terri that makes you constantly realize that this could be a really bad situation if not for the efforts of an assistant principal who may not be the most skilled at intervention but he does what he can and it makes a difference.

While the film itself may follow a bit of a formula, the characters in Terri are such a delight that I find myself planning to see the film again this weekend simply because I want to spend more time with these people. The relationship between Terri and Heather is, in particular, completely engaging even when it's occasionally uncomfortable. It's clear that these two people aren't comfortable in their own skins yet, somehow, they find comfort with one another.

Haven't you ever had a friend like that? Someone who accepted you in ways you didn't even accept yourself?

Absolutely wonderful.

The scenes between Terri and his Uncle James aren't done by rote, but are genuine encounters between a young man whose acts of caring are quiet yet intentional and an aging man who was obviously a man of tremendous substance and yet who can feel his mind slowly slipping away. These encounters are filled with such a quiet grace and a genuine connection that the feelings stay with you long after the film has ended.

Perhaps most of all, however, Terri works because of the authentic dialogue and connection between newcomer Wysocki and Hollywood vet John C. Reilly. Reilly has been driving me mad lately with his foray into comedy after comedy, yet here he returns to the masterful Reilly of indie film and awesome performances. There's no question that Reilly is a gifted actor, comedy and otherwise, but there's something about the Reilly acting instinct that makes him absolutely revelatory in a role such as this one. Terri and Fitzgerald are genuinely connected here, avoiding any semblance of stereotypical principal/student behavior and instead meeting each other in a place where emotional honesty and vulnerability allow for maximum connection. Wysocki's performance is quiet and confident, while Reilly's is more vulnerable than usual and even a bit more bumbling in nature.

In yet another sign of its irrelevance, the MPAA has ludicrously slammed Terri with an R-rating. Don't let that scare you away from, perhaps, allowing this film to be a terrific choice for movie day between parents and teenagers. Teenagers will no doubt identify with many of the film's themes, while parents will have an appreciation for the film's relationships and glimmer of hope within the lives of these outcasts for whom we must keep saying "It gets better." Indeed, it seldom gets better than films like Terri.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic