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August 1, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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Terri, The Future

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that Terri is just another one of those 21st-century tales of precocious teens coming of age and learning valuable lessons about life.

Our protagonist, the obese, world-weary Terri, is the logical extreme of the disaffected loner high schooler—he wears pyjamas to school, he engages in odd forms of altruism with local hawks and he’s practically isolated from the real world by virtue of living with his old uncle in the middle of the woods. The moral at the end of the story is also par for the course, with Terri learning that the world can be cruel and fucked-up, but that it’s better when you’ve got someone to weather it with. Where Terri differs from your regular coming-of-age story is in its execution—and it’s all the better for it.

Director Azazel Jacobs’ approach to Terri is calm and, in a sense, meditative. Barely anything in frame moves quickly or makes much noise—like Terri, the life in Jacobs’ lens takes life as it comes and doesn’t see any particular reason in moving any faster. With minimal non-diegetic music, sparse sets and the frequent use of static shots, Terri feels more matter-of-fact and honest about its characters and its story than the likes of Juno or Rocket Science. Rather than trying to spin a crude approximation of the way teenagers speak and act, Terri treats teenage life like anything else, stretches of tedium and routine punctuated by achievements, connections and disappointments.

Jacobs also gets great performances out of his young cast, feeding into his naturalistic portrait of the outer circle of high school life. As the eponymous loner, Jacob Wysocki gives a performance that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bresson film. A highly internalised portrayal of a boy simply resigned to the idea of his life stagnating, Wysocki’s passive demeanour gives greater depth and humanity to the moments when he can’t help but get emotional. Wysocki is well-supported by Bridger Zadina, who plays his fair-weather friend Chad with a simmering frustration at his inability to change the world around him; Wysocki is not so well-supported by John C Reilly, whose performance never really gels with the film’s melancholy until late into it. However, Terri still sets itself apart as a truthful and heartfelt look at high school life, at its best when it simply observes its characters, rather than manufacturing conflicts or forcing laughs.

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