Azazel Jacobs really came to the attention of film folk at Sundance in 2008 with a well-received film named Momma’s Man. But we haven’t heard anything from him since, until his new film Terri arrived on the festival scene this year. It held the honor of Centerpiece Film at SFIFF, and screened to a sold out crowd. This time, Azazel was working with a much more recognizable cast, including the comedic force that is John C. Reilly, and Creed Bratton, whom you may know from a TV show called The Office. Surprisingly, neither of these two are the protagonist.
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a morbidly obese young man in high school who has recently decided to stop wearing anything but pajamas to school. It’s clear he has stopped trying to fit in at a place he will never be able to. Principal Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) takes an interest in the socially deteriorating Terri and begins meeting with him on a weekly basis. He meets with several students on a weekly basis, but most of them are mentally or physically handicapped. This worries Terri.
The two strike up a genuine and flawed friendship that they both seem to need. Terri starts to gather up a small group of social misfits including a girl named Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), shamed by getting caught in a sexual act in the middle of class. In his home life, Terri takes care of an uncle (Creed Bratton) fading quickly from an unnamed illness
While not really about high school life, it does serve as a sometimes unforgiving and harsh backdrop. Azazel mentioned films like Clueless and The Breakfast Club as influences. Thankfully, no time is really spent on watching Terri get picked on, or made fun of. Doing so would make the film considerably less interesting.
Dark moments however, do have their place. One in particular left me feeling very disturbed. Terri has what he thinks may be a date with Heather at his home. But finding his uncle very lucid, Terri medicates him into a virtual coma. These are complex relationships indeed, but they only serve to make the film more interesting. And while Jacobs’ direction is mostly assured, a couple parts feel a bit forced or slow moving. These are only minor nuances though in an otherwise well made film.
As one who has little to no patience for movies like Step Brothers or Talladega Nights, I was genuinely surprised at how funny I thought the movie was. Reilly’s comedic sense seems to benefit greatly, at least in my mind, from separation from Will Ferrell. Although some parts of the film feel forced, mostly there’s a sweet tone to Terri that makes it enjoyable to watch. The film is truly funny and offers some real strong performances.