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We've all been there

"Terri" is almost an anti-teen-coming-of-age teen-coming-of-age movie. And it's terrific. Sure, some of the tropes are there - awkward kid learns about life, sex, himself, in varying combinations of that order. But Terri, the title character and protagonist, and the supporting characters are nothing like what you've seen in a typical teen sex romp. That's not what this is. Director Azazel Jacobs doesn't make a headlong rush toward punch lines - or anything else, really, taking his time to dole out developments patiently. That, and the performances, especially by Jacob Wysocki as Terri and John C. Reilly as the assistant principal who wants to help him, combine for a smart, compassionate, genuine film about growing up and making your way, no matter what the challenges. Terri has more than most. Huge and obese, he wears pajamas to school (they're comfortable, he explains) and doesn't seem to have close friends. But he's not an outcast, exactly. People make fun of him, yes. But he speaks to other students and performs an act of chivalry that wins him the awkward friendship of one of the class beauties, Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). He bails her out of a tough spot. He also develops a hit-and-miss friendship of a sort with Chad (Bridger Zadina), a cynical smart aleck who yanks his own hair out. Things are no easier at home, where Terri, whose parents are nowhere to be found, cares for his Uncle James (Creed Bratton), suffering from dementia, in the crowded hovel they share. He tasks Terri with things like setting traps for the mice in the crawl space, a job for which Terri develops an unusual enthusiasm. Then one day Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly), the assistant principal, calls Terri in. You've got to stop being tardy every day, he says. But there's more: He puts kids in two categories, those who have a good heart and those who don't. Terri, he correctly surmises, has a good heart. He wants to meet with Terri once a week, just hang out, talk. It makes Terri finally feel special - until he learns that Mr. Fitzgerald is doing the same thing for Chad and other troubled kids. Terri is hurt, but it's just another chink in his well-worn armor. Eventually he, Heather and Chad, along with a bottle of booze and some of his uncle's pills, will come together for a night that could go off the rails or could work out OK. It's to Jacobs' credit that he chooses the most realistic route; as to which of those two choices he makes, I won't say. Maybe neither. Wysocki is fantastic, never letting a trace of self-pity creep into Terri. He just plugs away at life, not feeling sorry for himself, though he has plenty of opportunity to. He's a good kid you want the best for. Reilly is excellent playing Mr. Fitzgerald, who is all over the place - nurturing and compassionate one minute, exploding in excitement or even anger the next. He's a fascinating character, and Reilly nails him. Crocicchia and Zadina, meanwhile, are nearly as good. And it's great to see Bratton, whose demented work on "The Office" is a type of twisted genius, play a meatier role here. But it all comes back to Terri in the end and to Wysocki. Watching him here is a delight, as he and Jacobs create a truly original character in what could easily have been a by-the-numbers coming-of-age movie. "Terri" is not. It's different, it's original, it's unexpected - and it's much better for it. Courtesy Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic
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Directed by: 
Azazel Jacobs
Running Time: 
Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Creed Bratton, Bridger Zadina, Olivia Crocicchia, Tim Heidecker
Screenplay by: 
Patrick DeWitt, Azazel Jacobs

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