Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best of 2011, number 4: Terri

Posted By on 12.20.11 at 03:00 PM

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Throughout December, Ben Sachs and I will take turns writing about our ten favorite films that had their Chicago premieres this year.

One of the more interesting developments of the last couple years has been watching the latest batch of indie filmmakers reach—well, not exactly the mainstream, but maybe the shores of the mainstream. Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) have ventured farthest into the water, hooking up with Fox Searchlight to distribute the wonderful Cyrus (2010) and Paramount Vantage to distribute the less-than-wonderful Jeff, Who Lives at Home (which screened at this year's Chicago International Film Festival and opens for a commercial run in March). Lynn Shelton graduated from the no-name cast of Humpday to Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt for the still-unreleased Your Sister's Sister. And Azazel Jacobs, writer and director of such funky low-budget fare as The GoodTimesKid (2005) and Momma's Man (2008), managed to land John C. Reilly for the role of the offbeat assistant principal in Terri.

Terri is the sort of story that gets pigeonholed as a "coming-of-age movie," though it maintains such an idiosyncratic point of view that you might have trouble specifying what coming of age actually means. We're all told that growing up means becoming an individual, but in reality it often means learning to conform. In that sense both the title character (Jacob Wysocki), a giant teen taunted by his classmates, and O'Reilly's principal, who tries to bond with the unhappy boy, are simultaneously juvenile and wise beyond their years. In a sense Jacobs learns the same sort of balancing act with this film: though it features a genuine movie star (in one of the best roles he's ever had), it also preserves the loopy, blind-alley plotting of something like The Goodtimeskid. A climactic little party in Terri's basement, involving his ratlike buddy, Chad (Bridger Zadina), and their classmate Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), who's in danger of becoming the school slut, pulls Terri into the terrain of adolescent sexuality and provides a new perspective on what the adult world is all about—for better or worse.

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