It’s hard to believe that as bad as high school used to be, it’s even worse now. Kids are less inhibited today, and not as easily tamped down by authority figures. Whether it’s all the behavioral meds or just something in the water, it all makes life one hell of a bitch to get through for Terri (Jacob Wysocki), the titular overweight, disinterested high schooler at the center of the new Azazel Jacobs film. Because of his weight, Terri is friendless and constantly bullied in increasingly degrading ways. In a show of social surrender, Terri starts wearing pajamas to school, because it just doesn’t matter: He’ll be made fun of either way. He might as well be comfortable in his clothes, since he’ll never be comfortable in his own skin.
Unlike the fat kids in the movies I grew up with, like Angus or The Mighty Ducks, Terri doesn’t seem to be especially good at anything. Certainly not football or hockey, not even science. Or, he might be, but won’t bother to try; again, he’d just be teased. He seems to have already given up on life before it’s started. Sadly, it’s completely understandable.
Like every misfit throughout real life and movie history alike, Terri has made the mistake of crushing on a pretty, smart, but ultimately unattainable girl, Heather (Olivia Crocicchia). Worse still, she is dating his bully, Dirty Zach (Justin Prentice). Of course she is. When the universe plays a joke on you, it goes all in. But everything changes for Terri when he and a few chatty girls see Dirty Zach getting in some finger play with Heather in class one day. The incident turns serendipitous for Terri, though, when he stands up for Heather. Dirty Zach is expelled, and Heather is pardoned by Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), the vice principal, though she’s left with a proverbial scarlet letter by the students, giving Terri an opening to sneak into her life.
Jacobs has matured as a filmmaker since Momma’s Man, and he brings a soft touch to much of this tough material. The film, though, exists as two almost entirely distinct halves. In one half, there is a serious coming-of-age drama, and in the other, John C. Reilly’s comedic persona, though charming, hurts the proceedings by turning them into the John C. Reilly Show.
Terri is not a film one would call enjoyable or triumphant, but it’s a film that’s easy to connect to. The bad times are rendered through the fat-kid trope, but Terri’s weight isn’t dwelled on as much as it might seem. (In fact, the film bears almost no relation to the trailer whatsoever.) It’s intensely awkward and squirm-inducing at some points, but Terri is sweet and darkly funny as well, and emotionally rewarding all the same.