Fails to Deliver on Promising Premise

TerriWhat was so colossally disappointing about Terri is not so much the quality of this quirky little independent film as the way it was packaged. Who hasn’t seen the previews and not been tantalized by the expectation of seeing a dark comedy about adolescent dysfunction? Well, and as much as I hate to say this, the cover for this cinematic book is a fraud.

Quite frankly, it is hard not to take extreme offense at how the public was intentionally misled by the company distributing Terri. More to the point, this movie is not a comedy in any sense of the word. It is a dour, brooding study of a group of adolescent misfits where the only truly funny scenes all appear in the previews.

While this is one of those films that is largely anticipation and little delivery, that is not to suggest that Terri is lacking in either charm or poignancy. To the contrary, Jacob Wysocki is wonderful as Terri, an overweight introvert living with an uncle suffering from dementia. Becoming so tragically depressed that he begins wearing pajamas to class, Terri gains the attention of an eccentric, caring assistant principal played by the always loveable John C. Reilly.

However, while few actors working today can exceed Reilly’s ability to breathe life into eccentric, well-meaning stumblebums [i.e., Talladaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) and Cedar Rapids (2011)], Terri suffers mightily from the fact that Mr. Reilly largely fades into insignificance. As a result, a movie that starts with such promise morphs into little more than an anthology of disconnected events.

Though on a surface level Terri provides the viewer with some realistic insight into the confusion experienced by teenagers, particularly those sitting on the outside of the social pecking order, most of these teenagers become strangely more unlikeable the longer the film lasts. Olivia Crocicchia plays Heather, a promiscuous teenage girl whose obvious lack of self worth seems destined to increasingly lead her into a life of disaster. Bridger Zadina plays Chad, an incredibly obnoxious teenage dickhead who clearly is destined for imprisonment before he reaches the age of 25.

As a personal aside, I must note that Terri continues Hollywood’s recent focus on the travails of aging baby boomers like myself. Unfortunately, we all seem to be destined for the early onset of Alzheimer’s as reflected here as well as by the characters played by Richard Jenkins and John Lithgow in this year’s previously reviewed Friends With Benefits and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s as if Hollywood is trying to remind us that there may be a downside to the aging process.

Though the central theme of this film (one admittedly worth remembering) is represented by Mr. Reilly’s admonition to Terri that “life is an incredible mess for everyone, we just have to do the best that we can”, you can’t help but get the feeling that these out of the loop teenagers are beyond help. This is graphically represented by a horribly embarrassing scene in Terri’s house where their chronic emotional shortcomings are on full display.

Terri is well meaning, but the same could be said about our lamentable ex-President Bush. Need I say more?