movie review: Terri

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by Leonard Maltin
July 1, 2011 4:30 AM
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John C. Reilly’s presence in a movie is almost a guarantee that you’re going to see something interesting. He has good taste and is willing to challenge himself, even if the films are modest in scale. One could scarcely find a movie more modest than Terri, but it’s extremely well-wrought and offers Reilly a plum part.

Newcomer Jacob Wysocki plays the title role, an overweight teenaged outcast whose home life is anything but ordinary. When he does have the ambition to go to school he’s a loner, mocked by his classmates. Then the principal takes notice of him and schedules a—

—weekly meeting where they can talk. In fact, he becomes Terry’s one true friend.

Patrick deWitt adapted several short stories into this cohesive, wonderfully sharp-eyed screenplay, which was directed by Azazel Jacobs, who garnered considerable attention with his 2008 feature Momma’s Man. Terri has a seamless quality, almost as if it were a documentary and the camera just happened to be present when these incidents took place. Even seemingly incidental characters have pearly moments onscreen, and they are all perfectly cast.

Wysocki hits just the right notes as Terri, who is utterly guileless but not stupid. An oddball whose manner and behavior are off-putting at first, he gradually wins us over with his good-hearted nature, just as he brings out the best in his principal. Reilly’s part is especially well written, with several speeches that linger in my memory for their earthy wisdom and honesty. (If only we were all lucky enough to meet someone like that principal during our adolescence.)

If I have any criticism of Terri, it’s that it’s slow, molasses-slow. But if you are patient with it, you will be rewarded with one of the most striking and satisfying indie films of the year.

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