Terri is an indie flick about an orphan (Jacob Wysocki) who lives with his uncle (Creed Bratton, yes, that Creed), struggles to fit in at school and finds an unlikely friend in his vice principal (John C. Reilly). With a synopsis like that, it may be hard to believe that Terri never falls into sappy sentimentality nor does it try to play things purposefully quirky in order to earn its hipster street cred. It’s true. Terri is a quiet, smart film that allows its characters to live and learn small lessons along the way without a triumphant ending.
Terri is overweight, wears pajamas to school, has no friends and is teased by his classmates. To top it all off, he’s responsible for his uncle, who suffers from an untold medical condition that renders the uncle unreliable much of the time. Terri doesn’t have an easy life and one can see it by the look of defeat in his posture and face. Enter Terri’s vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald, who is concerned about Terri and sets up one-on-one meetings once a week with him. Mr. Fitzgerald is a fairly complex character. At first he comes off as an oddball, played for comedic laughs, but as time goes on we see that this is a man who is struggling to find his own way through life. His interest in Terri and some of the other students is genuine, though there are a number of times his motives come into question.
A turning point for Terri is when he decides to step up and defend Heather Miles (Olivia Crocicchia), who is close to expulsion due to sexual misconduct with a boy in her home economics class. Terri saw the whole thing go down (as did most of the class) and goes out of his way to plead Heather’s case to Mr. Fitzgerald. It seems to have worked as Heather is shown back in home economics, complete with sunglasses to hide her tears. Terri once again bravely steps up by shielding Heather from further humiliation by deflecting the awkward attention focused on her by the teacher and her classmates. From there Terri strikes up a quiet friendship with Heather.
Heather and Terri’s friendship grows to the point where Heather comes over to Terri’s house to meet his uncle. An unlikely friend of Terri’s, Chad (Bridger Zadina), shows up shortly before Heather arrives and he does his best to cause trouble. What ensues between the three high schoolers at first seemed like pure titillation. The indie version of a teen house party. However, it’s during this misadventure between Terri, Heather and Chad that we see the desperation each of the three desire true love, friendship and care that has alluded them. We learn a bit more about how and why each has grasped unsuccessfully for fulfillment with the scene ending in a way that shows Terri as both wise beyond his years and yet still a teenager. Heather leaves in the morning after writing a note begging Terri not to tell anyone about the night before. She fears her actions will only enhance the reputation she started in her home economics class.
Once Terri wakes up the morning after, he heads to the school and finds Mr. Fitzgerald sleeping in his car. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald aren’t on good terms. The two go into the school and spend some time there talking and hanging out. There is no big moment where a big breakthrough occurs that wraps up the story neatly. Life doesn’t often work out that way and neither does the film.
The acting across the board is tremendous. The dialogue is authentic, the story strong enough, and the characters are interesting without becoming stereotypes. The first act of the film may test the patience, as it takes its time introducing the characters, but the reward is there for those who wait.