Terri Thompson (Jacob Wysocki, in his feature-film debut) is a gentle-voiced high-school kid, overweight and unhappy.
He lives with (and takes care of) his remote, ailing Uncle James (Creed Bratton, “The Office”), who’s heavily medicated for some unnamed condition; when asked by a classmate where his parents are, Terri just says “I don’t know.”
He wears pajamas to school – “they’re comfortable for me” – and has no friends, as the other kids tease him and think he’s a weirdo. He looks tired, like he’s already seen too much, or as if his school backpack carries some terrible weight.
Azazel Jacobs’ “Terri” sounds like a very sad film, and indeed it is, made more poignant by the quiet honesty of Wysocki’s performance. But it’s a wise film as well, populated by characters who seem utterly real.
Terri acquires a small community of fellow misfits: scrawny Chad (Bridger Zadina), an excitable yet troubled kid who’s constantly pulling out his own hair, and beautiful Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), who’s become an outcast due to a sexual indiscretion.
You watch them with bated breath, waiting for a terrible teenage mistake that will destroy their lives. But Jacobs treats them kindly, as does the seen-it-all vice principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly, wonderfully inhabiting a man never at a loss for words), who finds an unexpected connection with these unhappy kids.
“Terri” follows a familiar path, but does so with goodwill, and its ultimate message, delivered by Mr. Fitzgerald, is surprisingly touching.
“Life’s a mess, dude,” he tells Terri, “but we’re all just doing the best we can.”