The handful of people who watched—and miss—the cancelled ABC Family series Huge should take a look at the high-school drama Terri, and not just because it stars Huge bit-player Jacob Wysocki. Written by Patrick deWitt and directed by Azazel Jacobs, Terri has Wysocki playing an overweight teenager who lives with his mentally ill uncle Creed Bratton, and suffers through days at a high school where his classmates honk his man-boobs and tease him mercilessly. And Wysocki doesn’t make it easy on himself, either. He’s a sweet, smart kid, but he’s sullen, and frequently tardy, which doesn’t get the teachers on his side. Plus, he wears pajamas to class. The one person who tries to help is his principal, John C. Reilly, who had a rough boyhood himself, and considers counseling the school’s misfits to be a personal crusade. He knows—and Terri knows, as Huge knew—what it’s like to stumble through the war zone of adolescence, looking for allies.
As he showed with his earlier films, The GoodTimesKid and Momma’s Man, Jacobs has a terrific eye. He’s never overindulgent about it, but he does take time to explore the characters’ exterior and interior spaces: framing a conversation between two teenage boys so there’s a woman’s breast right at their eye level, for example, and cutting from a close-up to a medium shot so we can see the accumulated clutter around Wysocki’s home. Jacobs is less assured with actors; the performances in Terri are all good, but they lurch from mumbly to excited without much between.
Still, deWitt’s script is much better than anything Jacobs has worked on before, with a story that gets richer as it goes, as Wysocki befriends scrawny psychopath Bridger Zadina and damaged cute girl Olivia Crocicchia. Terri builds to a powerful scene where the three of them get hammered in a tool shed and confront the underlying tensions in nearly every male-female teen relationship. The sequence is well-written and staged, and provides a graceful climax to a movie that’s full of well-observed details about kids who feel like “monsters,” whether they’re studying up on the habits of predators—animal and human—or reading Gulliver’s Travels to get some tips about how to behave as a lumbering beast.