Published Aug 18, 2011In the interest of being accessible to a broader audience, or smoothing over possible viewer discomfort, most films about outsiders tend to gravitate towards quirky, using an adjacent reality to find easy solutions to complex problems. It's a distancing technique that recognizes dominant modes of socialization, wherein people are coerced to prioritize fitting in over personal identity without acknowledging or admitting doing so.
Fortunately, Terri has no such agenda. In fact, its keen, shockingly insightful and unapologetic observations about human hypocrisy and insecurity often make it exceedingly awkward to watch. It's actually quite refreshing, seeing as films about socially abject teens are a dime-a-dozen and often interchangeable.
Here, the teen in question is the titular Terri (Jacob Wysocki), whose obesity and resignation to pariah status has him routinely showing up late to school in pyjamas because, "they're comfortable." This puts him on the radar of his principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), who sets up a weekly meeting to check in and establish some sort of bond and connection.
Typically, a movie with this premise would have Terri discover his place in the world or find a way to fit in without betraying his individual spirit, but here ― much like in real life ― he just learns that most people are flawed and desperately trying to cope with constant absurdity and disappointment. He still develops a partial friendship with a trichotillomaniac and a young woman ostracized for allowing herself to be fingered during home economics, but it's tenuous and mired with human inconsistency, along with the harsh reality of isolation.
And while the performances are all solid, it's the borderline brilliant screenplay and painfully sincere dialogue that make this discomforting coming-of-age story stand out. A mid-movie speech by Reilly about politely watching people perform social niceties contrary to their actual emotions is quite possibly the most simultaneously touching and upsetting moment captured on film in 2011.
Even if Terri loses its footing somewhere in the third act, spending far too much time on a strange, drunken social gathering, it's still a very compelling and touching piece of must-see cinema. (Mongrel Media)