We know we’re not in the multiplex mentality from the first scene of the quirky delight Terri. Terri, our glum but loveable, large-scaled high school pariah protagonist is in the bathtub, yelling to his mercurial and restless uncle (played by Creed Bratton of The Office fame) that he will feed him shortly: “How about beans on toast?” Beans on toast is just one of the offbeat motifs running through this film about one young man’s troubled pathway through adolescence. John C. Reilly, he of both wacky-comedy and indie-movie voltage, is another indicator of offbeat cred here, as is Terri’s existence in the wake of a similar film, last year’s moving Cyrus, also involving an overweight and stability-challenged teen foil.
Sexual awakening, adolescent angst, and the casual brutality of high school classmates are stirred into the story, but make no mistake: Terri is no garden-variety teen-woes saga. There’s a rare and running balance of mild-mannered audacity and subtlety as we follow the story of Terri (wonderfully played by Jacob Wysocki) through graduating past wearing pajamas at school to finding a friend—albeit a corruptive prankster—and even a potential girlfriend, a fellow outcast in the high school microcosm.
Reilly plays the assistant principal who takes Terri under his wing and sets up weekly encounters with the aim of “seeing how we’re faring against the world.” The “we” in that statement becomes truer than expected, and Reilly’s character issues his wisest aphorism late in the film, when he tells Terri, “Life’s a mess, dude, but we’re all just doing the best we can.”
In the end, Terri is a sweet and proudly unusual entry in the all-American rite-of-passage film genre. It reminds us that there are many stories to tell and characters to explore, not to mention new cinematic lingos in the artistic lurch.