Pin It

It Doesn't Get Better 

This tale of a high school outcast is quietly powerful, if not transformative.

click to enlarge A universal theme: High school sucks.
  • A universal theme: High school sucks.

Stories about high school misfits form a substantial, if commonplace, subgenre of indie film dramas. Just by standing out from the pack, Azazel Jacobs’ Terri is already marked with distinction.

Jacobs’ style is observational, and there’s actually more watchfulness than storytelling going on in this film. His well-cast characters are unpredictable, and they’re given plenty of room to meander through the social mess that is the American high school. Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a morbidly obese teen who wears loose-fitting pajamas to school — a sign of rebellious distinction, as well as an indicator that he has given up trying to find his place within the social strata.

This outsider lives on the edge of some woods in California with his addled uncle (Terri’s parents are unexplainedly absent). Taunts from the other teens cause Terri to dread going to school, and he is habitually late for homeroom. Lately, his grades have slipped, and that brings him to the attention of Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), the assistant principal.

Reilly, the MVP of character actors, delivers a superlative, full-hearted performance as the well-meaning but generally clueless administrator who establishes weekly counseling sessions with Terri. It’s a role that could have been easily played for laughs, but Reilly manages to make us believe in the character’s good intentions despite Mr. Fitzgerald’s inability to come up with any advice more constructive than “Life’s a mess, and we all just try to do the best we can.” Lobbing a malted milk ball at his advisee is his solution to all of life’s unanswerables.

Terri responds positively to Mr. Fitzgerald’s attention until he realizes that, rather than being unique, he forms part of a subset of school misfits that the assistant principal regularly counsels.

Wysocki’s Terri verges between wary and trustful. He’s impatient but gentle with his uncle, yet he demonstrates a creepy interest in the dead mice that are caught in their attic traps. Terri has a kind of lumbering grace that’s intriguing to watch yet ultimately unknowable.

That’s both the originality and the frustration of this movie. Its observations (given a great assist by Tobias Datum’s cinematography) are acutely attuned to various details of Terri’s life, but they also leave out broad swaths of information.

As he showed in his last feature, Momma’s Man, Jacobs has an affinity for stories about young men searching for their identities. Terri never finds any big answers — and it’s not even clear that he knows what the questions are — but watching him do the best he can becomes a languid study in teenage perseverance.


  • Pin It

Latest in Film

  • Winning Reboot
  • Winning Reboot

    Somehow, Arnold's return to the Terminator franchise makes for solid sci-fi
    • Jul 1, 2015
  • <b>Stripped Down</b>
  • Stripped Down

    Magic Mike XXL can't recapture the substance that made the original more than hunky shirtless guys
    • Jul 1, 2015
  • Dog of a Story
  • Dog of a Story

    Max wastes a promising idea on forgettable characters
    • Jun 24, 2015
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed

All of today's events | Staff Picks


More by Marjorie Baumgarten

  • Wiiging Out
  • Wiiging Out

    Kristen Wiig's performance in Welcome to Me is funny, but squeamishly so
    • May 13, 2015
  • Student and Pupil
  • Student and Pupil

    Ethan Hawke's documentary Seymour: An Introduction mediates long and hard on artistry
    • Apr 29, 2015
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • All Man

    Gregg Allman has experienced much turmoil, but he perseveres with his mix of blues, rock and country
    • Jun 24, 2015
  • Lightening the Mood

    Local metal quartet Mercy Brown garners fans around the globe thanks to a viral video
    • Jun 17, 2015
  • More »

Top Tags in
Music & Film




Indie Rock


© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation