Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Azazel Jacobs hits his stride with 'outsider' movie TERRI; ensemble cast a knockout


When I interviewed filmmaker Azazel Jacobs for GreenCine a few years ago, around the time his then-new film Mama's Man made its theatrical debut, even though I was not over-awed with the movie, I found Jacobs an absolutely terrific, insightful, energetic and enjoyable young man (that interview is here). And I couldn't help but wonder where his career might go and what he would do next. With TERRI, we now know: This is his best, most accessible and vital work yet.

Terri is an outsider movie, about, in this case, a hugely overweight high school student, the uncle he lives with and cares for, the vice-principal who takes an interest in him, and a couple of his peers whom he must work with.  Jacobs, pictured at left, is no newcomer to outsider movies. He seems the quintessential outsider himself -- not that he was necessarily put-upon in high school, or anything that obvious -- but his films seem made by and for outsiders with subject matter that's about outsiders. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he consider everyone -- in some way -- an outsider, and I'd have to agree with him. Goodness knows his family life (he's the son of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs) could be called "outsider," yet Azazel seems, as a filmmaker and a man, about as comfortable in his skin and shoes as anyone could possibly be.

His movies bear this quality, too. Whatever else you might think of them, they seem comfortable within their own framework. No stretching or over-extending, their reach and grasp are relatively equal. They're simply there. But Terri is somehow there in spades.

Outsider movies are nothing new. From last year's best film (so far as TM is concerned) Never Let Me Go to something as innocuous and fun as Mean Girls, the genre is by now a staple of our movie-going life. In Terri, Jacobs takes all the clichés of the genre but, rather than simply gussying them up, pares thme down to the bone and, along with his splendid cast and a fine and simple screenplay by newcomer Patrick Dewitt, reimagines them with immense feeling, wit and the specificity of the odd.

From the big boy in a bathtub opening, with sidelong shots of his infirm Uncle James (a fine job by Creed Bratton, above) to the old, falling down and-secluded-in-the-forest house that the pair inhabit to that near-enchanted forest itself, through which Terri must travel to get to school -- everything here has been arranged by the filmmaker to seem both very strange and absolutely real: an odd but wonderfully workable combination. Mice, an enormous hawk, schoolmates who tease and hurt, and a vice principal (played with gruff/tender strength by John C. Reilly, below, right) intent on reaching this problemed young man -- they all have their part in the movie's quietly entrancing plan.

This is Mr. Reilly's second film, after last year's Cyrus, in which he plays opposite an overweight boy. As good as was Cyrus, Terri is even better. Despite its weirdness, it is less manipulative, effecting its gradual, one might even say, minimal changes with honor and difficulty. This is not one of those movies in which the fellow we root for goes from zero to hero. We understand, even when Terri does not, that he is a long way from the former, and while he may never reach the latter, he's got a lot of living and learning left to do.

Two of the students who are prove the biggest help to Terri (and he to them) have also been extremely well-imagined and played by Bridger Zadina (as Chad, at right) and Olivia Crocicchia (as Heather, below). The friendship that develops among these three is full of inventive incident, surprise and (thankfully) a sensible dose of self-interest so that it remains truthful to the end. It also goes into difficult places -- drugs and sex, for instance -- in a way in which few other teens movies even get near, and certainly not in a manner this embarras-singly honest.

In the title role, the performance of Jacob Wysocki (below, and in several of the photos above) is memorable. If you see this film, and I hope you do, when you think again of big boys, it's probably Jacob (and his Terri) who will first come to mind. So well do we get under his skin that we begin identifying rather miraculously. This is Jacob's and Mr. Jacobs' most wonderful gift: we are Terri, Terri is us. There is no more "other."

The movie, from ATO Pictures, opens this Friday, July 1, in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center and in California (Los Angeles, Pasadena, Irvine and Encino). Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Terri is an incredible movie! I saw it in NYC this weekend, and it exceeded my expectations. The acting and directing are both great. So great that I kept finding myself amazed by the beautiful shots that Azazel Jacobs managed to capture and by how good the young actors were. Everyone should definitely go see Terri when it comes out in theaters in their cities over the summer.

James van Maanen, said...

You're right, Anonymous. Everyone SHOULD go see this movie. But you know how fickle and difficult "everyone" can be. It's hard to get them to agree on ANYthing!

But I still hope Terri draws the art/independent crowd into theaters. We shall see....