[This week, Jenika and Alex are covering select films from the Los Angeles Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “Los Angeles Film Festival.” Keep watching throughout the week as we bring you more reviews!]
I’m getting real f***ing sick of high school outcast movies. They’ve been treading the same stupid ground since John Hughes was in his heyday. Here’s something filmmakers tend to forget about middle-to-high school: everyone’s an outcast. Some get it worse than others, but I defy you to find a single kid in that age range that isn’t feeling alienated about something, even if it’s just that a certain cheerleader won’t go to third base when the others did. High school blows. This is science fact. I went to high school, and it blew. Assuming you’re older than eighteen, chances are that you went to high school, and it also blew. The worst part is that it’s such a rarity to find people willing to tell an honest story of a high school outcast, especially post-Hughes. I’m wracking my brain right now trying to think of one, and the best I can come up with is Sky High, and that’s about superhero high school. Not exactly grounded.
Anyway, Terri‘s the latest in a line of films that try and fail to show what the sad loners are going through in high school. I’m going to tell you right now, though, speaking from my experiences as a fat, friendless loser in high school, it’s mostly s**t.
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is, socially speaking in high school circles, something of a train wreck. He’s very overweight, incredibly awkward, and wears nothing but pajamas. Everywhere. When he’s not enduring ridicule at school, he’s taking care of his sick, possibly Alzheimer’s-suffering Uncle James (Creed Bratton). His only real social outlet comes when Assistant Principal Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) takes an interest in him, trying his best to talk about Terri’s problems in a weekly meeting. Through these meetings, and the gradual social growth he undergoes, Terri meets Chad (Bridger Zadina) and Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), other “monsters,” as Terri calls them, getting some kind of support from Mr. Fitzgerald.
The standout high point in this film is John C. Reilly, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I was initially offput by him, figuring he was doing his usual “kind of immature adult” thing in trying to relate to Terri. As the film goes on, though, you learn that he’s really very much the same as Terri and the other “monsters.” He’s an awkward guy that lived an awkward adolescence, and he’s doing his best to help the kids at his school. He screws up, and sometimes he does so royally, but he’s trying his best. That seems to be the strongest message in the film. You’ll probably fail more times than succeed in life, but you still have to try, damn it.
Despite that fairly soaring message, Terri mostly falls flat. Very flat. It treads that weird line between drama and comedy, the dreaded “Dramedy,”and it’s a hard sub-genre to crack. Other than John C. Reilly, there’s not a lot to like in this movie. Much of the cinematography is pretty, though largely utilitarian. The filmmakers seems to really, really like Jacob Wysocki’s weird, swishy gait as he walks through the woods to school. Which he does. A lot. Stuff like that, a desire to linger on the absolutely pointless, really brings the film’s pacing to a grinding halt, too. Also, there’s the ongoing joke of “herp derp fatty runs funny,” which just couldn’t click. It’s like the filmmakers are saying, “We want you to sympathize with our awkward character but LOOK AT THEM HAM HOCKS JIGGLE.”
The performances, other than Reilly and Creed Bratton’s limited contributions, are fairly substandard. I can’t really fault the young actors, though, since their characters are by and large pretty one dimensional. Terri and Heather get the most well rounded characters in the piece, and even they left me wanting. Heather is your damaged girl who made a mistake with sex and has to suffer the consequences, finding an unlikely friend in Terri’s compassionate hands. Terri manages to grow from just being angry and contemptuous at the world to having at least a bit of an understanding that the world’s hard, so you just have to roll with it.
Unfortunately, while that’s some interesting material, Jacob Wysocki falls short of delivering the goods, which is a shame, as he’s in almost every frame of film. He exemplifies a current trend in young actors of doing very little, for fear of doing too much. There are moments when he’s just kind of taking up space in a scene, rather than interacting and reacting to the events going on around him. When he’s more actively involved in a scene, he can bring it, but when he’s detached, you can really tell. He comes across less as an observer and more as an actor waiting to say his lines.
You can’t fault Terri for trying, and there does seem to be a certain amount of love for all these misfit kids and adults, but at the end of the day, the move just isn’t terribly good. John C. Reilly tries his best to salvage what he can, but even Steve Bruhl can’t save this clunker.
Jenika Katz: What is supposed to be a heartwarming comedy about an outcast learning to make friends ends up being a dull tale of an awkward kid who accidentally makes “friends.” Terri could be an interesting character if we were able to experience his growth, but we don’t learn much of anything from him. His outcast child friends are weird to the point of being unlikeable, and John C. Reilly, the assistant principal that reaches out to Terri, ends up feeling more creepy than charming. The jokes mostly fall flat, and the few actual laughs in the movie are so few and far between that they’re not worth the wait. Terri could have been a good comedy or an interesting drama, but its attempts to mix the two just ruined it completely. 5.25 – Bad.