Young outsider grows endearing
Like its title character, an obese high-school misfit who wears pajamas to school because they're comfortable, Terri grows on you.
It is a likable movie about a 15-year-old outsider (Jacob Wysocki) who doesn't like himself so much. Over the course of the story Terri's innate empathy endears him to the vice principal (John C. Reilly), then to a pretty classmate (Olivia Crocicchia), and, ultimately, to the audience.
Director Azazel Jacobs (Momma's Man) tells Terri's story like an edgy folk tale - call it Beauty and the Beast in the forest of adolescence. Terri, who is parentless, lives at the edge of a scrubby wood with his Uncle James (Creed Bratton), a forlorn figure with dementia. In order for Terri to reach his standard-issue Southern California school, he trudges through the wood, through the wilderness to a stucco-built civilization.
He is inevitably tardy. Perhaps, the movie suggests, also developmentally delayed? In class, he hopes to be invisible at the back of the room. Fellow students, quicker and coarser than slow-moving and tender Terri, get him into trouble. His homeroom teacher can't even make eye contact with him. Jacobs frames it and Wysocki acts it so that we feel Terri's humiliation and embarrassment as our own.
When vice principal Fitzgerald asks to meet with him every Monday, lonely Terri feels special. Then the awkward student realizes he's just another "monster" to whom Fitzgerald gives pep talks.
Wysocki is an actor capable of conveying what his character is thinking and feeling, and for all of Terri's considerable awkwardness there is remarkable grace.
In home ec, Terri erects a wall of flour sacks and other dry goods and hides behind it, spying on pretty Heather (Crocicchia) as a boy fondles her in class. Too innocent to understand what is happening, he is mortified for Heather, who strikes up a note-passing relationship with him.
There are thousands of coming-of-age movies, but Terri is one where the point isn't losing one's virginity but rather gaining another's trust. It is painful, it is funny, and it marks the remarkable debut of Wysocki.