High school alienation isn’t new subject matter for films, but Terri takes alienation to the extreme with its focus on an obese, socially awkward teen (Jacob Wysocki) so far out on the fringe that he wears pajamas to school every day with impunity. Not just pajama pants, but head to toe old man pajamas.
Recognizing someone in need of a lifeline, caring principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) begins scheduling weekly meeting with Terri to get to know him better and hopefully bring him out of his shell. Unfortunately, Mr. Fitzgerald also does this with a handful of other oddball students, so when Terri figures out that he’s just a part of the principal’s menagerie rather than a truly special case, he retreats further into himself. He’s not completely isolated though, as he slowly bonds with another of Fitz’s freaks and also pines for and eventually befriends a perky blonde entirely out of his league.
Meanwhile, Terri’s home life consists of caring for an aging uncle (Creed Bratton from The Office) who is gradually going senile, with no way for Terri to predict his mental condition from day to day. Some days the uncle can care for Terri, but most days Terri is the caregiver. Bratton puts in a surprisingly moving but small turn, giving the film much more dramatic weight than the far-fetched primary relationship between Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald. The same can’t be said for Wysocki, as he plays the role with such a stone-faced lack of emotion that he fails to make us root for the underdog. As for Reilly, he’s his usual affable self, but his principal character is nearly as off-kilter as Terri, leaving Reilly with an authoritative role that unintentionally borders on the comedic.
The film is entirely hit or miss, delivering choice moments that ring true at times but failing to string them into a meaningful or memorable narrative. There’s also a sexually charged scene near the end that is so uncomfortable, so out of the realm of possibility, and so out of the spirit of the rest of the work that it nearly derails the entire film. Writer/director Azazel Jacobs has been building indie cred for years but scenes like that virtually ensure he’ll stay there rather than mature into an important creator. Terri isn’t without its charms, but also isn’t worth wading through to find them.
The DVD includes a few deleted scenes that are best left deleted, along with a making of featurette including interviews with the cast and Jacobs.