Terri (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Terri (2011)

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Terri, sad boy, great film.

Sure there's a bit of a lilt to the soundtrack as Terri (Jacob Wysocki) gets some sunshine in his life, but that did nothing to counteract the terribly defeated sighs erupting from myself and my movie watching partner.  Wearying is putting it a bit mildly.  There's nothing so numblingly crushing as the simple act of trying to appear as any kind of appealing individual when not even the heat cares enough to make you sweat.

Terri, for whatever reason, comes billed as a dramatic comedy.  If I were to dissect the film into a pie chart, the movie would be nine slices of pure desperation and one of the kind of tired chuckle that comes from being too tired to cry.  So, yes, I did chuckle, but I'll be damned if Terri's plight didn't feel painfully familiar.

It takes place during those years I am still convinced are the worst in existence -  the gaping void of pubescent anxiety that erupts during Middle School.  It's absolute hell on someone like Terri, who is without his parents and forced to care for his invalid uncle day in and day out.  When he's late for school it's because he just wants to find something, anything, that delights him and is punished by teachers and administration for it.

What makes all this worse is how director Azazel Jacobs cares even for Terri's tormentors.  Yes, he is taunted quite a bit, but even the "monster's" allow him a bit of quiet and laugh at his jokes when he finally decides to develop a personality for himself other than perpetually morose.  The side plots, mostly dealing with an all too closely paralleled story with the school pretty-yet-deep girl and his meetings with the Principal, exist mainly to facilitate this transformation and provide tidy metaphors for the pain of Middle School existence.

When words just won't do, try a stretchy face.

But while they may be a bit direct, it doesn't make them any less effective or lacking through Jacobs' lens.  All throughout the film are signs of activity that begin horrible, but produce some sense of delight that, once noticed, is punished.  There's a stunning sequence that begins on an incredibly morbid tinge with Terri coming upon five dead mice, but using that death to bring about a rare sight, and then immediately punished for doing the very thing he was asked to.  Sometimes it's better just not to be noticed than to try and be a good person at all.

However, if this were the point of Terri then it might seem that I slipped back into reviewing a forgotten Bergman movie.  For all it's crushing reality about Middle School, there's still a complicated core of good people that are intriguingly written.  Chief among these is the Principal, played by that perpetually hang-dog actor John C. Reilly (who may have met his match with Wysocki).  One of the films' biggest strengths is its realization that healing and the truth do not come hand in hand, and he is required to lie to student, faculty, parents, anything just to get the people to feel the illusion that they're functional human beings.

The film hammers this point home the hardest.  Terri adopts a new-ish persona because of the lies he is told.  Who here is really getting hurt when the Principal relates the same "I've never told anyone this" story to every painful soul that comes through the door?  Yes the whole "we tell lies to get through life" shtick has been played out, but rarely with so much empathy for the characters.

Weird, but functional, family unit.

I felt for them, all of them, even the tormentor's (I've had my weaker moments) though it's Terri that still gets us through.  Terri, with some strength we can barely grasp at, is the one who goes from telling how "This morning they asked me if I sucked on my own breast" to sweetly fondling a note from a new friend.

While the film is a reminder of how too many of those days are spent with the former, and less recalling the latter, the conclusion is the same.  You're no more a monster than the next person in pain, just try to remember that you don't have to have the strength to get through all the days.  Just enough.

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Terri (2011)

Directed by Azazel Jacobs.
Screenplay by Patrick DeWitt.
Starring  Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly.

Posted by Andrew

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