Two standout performances
Terri stands apart from The Art of Getting By and Submarine because of Reilly’s Mr. Fitzgerald, a vice principal who cares about kids in trouble. Wysocki is extraordinary as Terri, a huge oddball with a confused, hungry heart.
Reilly’s straightforward, unforgettable character walks his talk. He owns his own disappointments and shortcomings.
Mr. Fitzgerald doesn’t pretend to have it all together, but he knows enough to share his homespun philosophy. When obese Terri lands in his office for daily tardiness, he sets up a weekly meeting to mentor the pajama-clad, good-hearted teen.
Terri is big, odd and misunderstood. He lives in a messy old house with Uncle James (The Office’s Creed Bratton, very good here) who’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He takes care of his uncle tenderly.
Trapping mice in the attic is necessary and gives Terri something to do. Glum and bored, he loiters in the woods each morning, watching his offering of dead mice on a log.
When a raptor arrives, Terri yelps with excitement. It’s the first revelation of the big boy’s spirit.
An encounter with the bird of prey also sets this movie apart. The raptor is said to symbolize vision, power and guardianship. Connecting with nature is another way the boy heals.
Mr. Fitzgerald suggests a new life perspective: “I like this person. I look forward to these days.”
Wysocki is an actor of imagination and warmth. Terri makes slow and painful progress. He aches, stumbles and has wise insights. He wants to fit in as he struggles to be himself.
Patrick Dewitt’s understated dialogue rings perfectly. “The feeling is no feeling,” Terri tells his mentor.
Outcast friends party
Terri hangs out with two other outcasts, publicly shamed Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) and hair-pulling misanthrope Chad (Bridger Zadina). The trio reveals risky delight, a weird foray into friendship and experimentation.
All three succeed with plain-spoken honesty. Jacobs captures odd beauty in this and other scenes.
Mr. Fitzgerald talks about life and possibilities from his heart and his gut. Reilly makes the character unique as a caring, competent man who admits his own shortcomings. The unapologetically odd vice principal grows on us throughout the film.
Terri finds Mr. Fitzgerald passed out in his car one Sunday morning in the school parking lot. He’s had another fight with his wife.
The two share quality time, raiding aspirin from the nurse’s office and shooting hoops. The school’s motto towers above them in the gym: Pride. Tradition. Excellence.
Growing into manhood
Mentors are marginal and undeveloped in The Art of Getting By and Submarine. In Terri, youth and age are both honored.
Fitzgerald throws Terri a lifeline, and the teen gives him the opportunity to practice his life’s calling. There’s a boy within the man, and a man within the boy.
Life’s a mess, dude
When Fitzgerald betrays the boy’s trust it’s devastating. He transforms the moment by apologizing.“Life’s a mess, dude, but we’re all just doing the best we can.”
In an imperfect world, Terri ends in a quiet, transcendent moment. This is not a feel-good movie, but one that celebrates flawed humanity and hope. (4 out of 5 stars)
Terri 2011 / R / 1 hour, 27 min
Cast Overview: Jacob Wysocki, Creed Bratton, Olivia Crocicchia, Bridger Zadina, John C. Reilly
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Genre: Drama, Dramedy