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Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a perhaps 15-year-old high school student. He is considerably overweight, even obese, almost entirely friendless, and his grades are cratering. Often he shows up at school wearing pajamas; it’s “easier.” If he were professionally evaluated, he’d probably be diagnosed as clinically depressed.

He’s also the titular protagonist of Azazel Jacobs’ quietly observant, softly amusing, if sometimes sad film. And he represents both Terri’s attractions and its self-imposed limitations.

Terri lives with his aging, ailing Uncle Jim in a hilly, forested area of what may be southern California. He’s the dutiful mainstay of this little household, usually handling the cooking, cleaning, and shopping, as well as seeing that his uncle takes the medicine for his unspecified condition. (Even with it, the kindly, bookish Jim can drift off into a private fugue.) No one seems to be monitoring these two, or even in contact with them.

At school, Terri moves passively through the day. That he’s so matter-of-factly accepted, or ignored, is a hallmark of Jacobs’ lack of interest in psychological or social realism. His high school and its students initially look like they’re modeled from life, but Terri unfolds in its own slightly surreal, idiosyncratic, often uninformative fashion.

Terri’s drift into personal isolation is interrupted by Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), the principal, who begins to play a combination of Dutch uncle and social worker in weekly meetings in his office. Their relationship, sympathetically and wittily depicted, becomes the heart of the film.

The filmmakers’ rather arbitrary indifference to information—about Terri’s personal history, for example—contributes to both the movie’s charm and it’s sometimes frustrating vagueness. On the other hand, Terri, which was written by Patrick Dewitt, offers a subtly seductive dramatization of life’s unsettling, hard-to-fathom quality. And Jacobs leaves us with an unmistakable, although hard-to-define hopefulness.

george sax

Watch the trailer for Terri

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