By Anna Bielak | January 14, 2012
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Writer(s): Patrick Dewitt (screenplay), Azazel Jacobs (story)
Starring: Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Bridger Zadina, Creed Bratton, Olivia Crocicchia, Tim Heidecker
Pride. Tradition. Excellence. These three words takeover the screen for a few seconds in the form of an enormous inscription on the wall of a high school assembly hall as two characters sit backwards on the stage. Those are the words that I remember best after watching Azazel Jacobs’ Terri; yet, I would not use them to characterize the film. Jacobs turns everything we know about pride upside down, synthesizes different traditions and develops a story that is far from achieving excellence from the very beginning. Having Momma’s Man (2008) in mind, Terri’s first half-hour made me believe that Jacobs has gone from telling stories about offbeat characters to observing typical teenagers with typical problems.
Terri tells the story of the titular fat high school boy (Jacob Wysocki) who has problems with himself; at least according to the school principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), who invites him to meetings in his office every Monday morning. Should the headmaster turn into a psychiatrist for an hour to solve his students’ problems rather than send them away? Very ambitious — yet, not a very well thought out idea. Every student who comes to Mr. Fitzgerald’s office is an individual; if we were to make a group of them, we would get a classical panopticon of teenage freaks. Terri is one of them and he notices this right away. How typical and disappointing…
A brief recollection of initiation movies immediately delivers flashbacks of John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (1985). Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), who appears in the principal’s office after having a sexual experience right in front of her colleagues’ eyes, is nothing more than a variation on Claire (Molly Ringwald) from The Breakfast Club, the school princess who finds herself in the position of an outcast. In this context, Chad (Bridger Zadina) is a much more attention-grabbing combination of the aggression of Bender (Judd Nelson) — Zadina even looks like a young Nelson! — and the passivity of a withdrawn Allison (Ally Sheedy). Mr. Fitzgerald makes a speech about bad people and good-hearted ones; yet, sometimes the good ones can become involved in bad situations and treated as bad people. It sounds like the division made up by The Breakfast Club‘s Bender, who categorizes people as “those born to be fat and those that were once thin but became fat.” There is a moment when there is no difference between the two groups. So, after noticing multiple similarities between these two films, I began looking for something that might be new in Jacobs’ film; something that is not repetition, not a variation on something else. I found Terri — this is the person whom I would like to look at; he is the original character.
Among all of these teenagers who have problems finding themselves, who are stuck between childhood and adulthood, Terri is amazingly self-conscious. He is as curious as a boy should be but very self-confident as an adult man. Asked why was he is wearing his pajamas to school, he answers that they just fit. There is no fake extravagance in him, Terri is not playing games with the others. He is not one of those characters who needs to change during the film; he is a catalyst who causes a chemical reaction and makes changes around him. Thanks to Terri, Heather and Chad start to connect with people apart from their social groups. So does Jacobs break the stereotype that being friends during one evening will never turn into a lifetime friendship whenever the people involved come from different backgrounds? I could believe that Jacobs might do this, but…
If there is one aspect of Terri that I find difficult to believe, it is the principal’s attitude towards his students. Mr. Fitzgerald was a school freak once and now he understands everybody around him and knows exactly how to talk to people? Sure it is much better to believe in an empathetic, sensitive and wise character rather than observing the senseless and destructive teacher in Hughes’ movie; yet, I cannot convince myself to find any truth in John C. Reilly’s would-be-cool headmaster. However, (to quote the final essay from The Breakfast Club) maybe I just see them [all] as I want to see them “in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions.”