'Terri' review: A provocative glimpse at the perplexing awfulness of being 15 (or older)

***1/2 (out of four)
At a time when people notice if you’re “tardy” for things, overweight 15-year-old Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is constantly late for school. Partly because the kid, who exclusively wears pajamas, is solely in charge of taking care of his sick uncle (Creed Bratton of “The Office”), but mostly because he’s not that eager to get there. An assistant principal (John C. Reilly) takes an interest in Terri, who appreciates the gesture while wondering if he’s being patronized.
The buzz: Last year Reilly provided a famous face to another offbeat tale from indie directors (Mark and Jay Duplass’ “Cyrus”). He does it again in this character study from director Azazel Jacobs (the excellent “Momma’s Man,” which you should rent).
The verdict: Quietly heartbreaking. Paced at the slow trudge of high school, “Terri” thankfully isn’t a story about a troubled kid gaining confidence through phony lessons and experiences. This is a movie that breaks down notions of age and status and turns the world into a big mess of people just trying to get by one moment at a time. Who can’t get something out of the message that problems don’t go away when you get older? The performances by Wysocki, Reilly and Olivia Crocicchia (as a classmate of Terri’s) flawlessly demonstrate why different people might feel unsure about themselves or others. What really got to me, though: The look at what people do when they think no one will find out, and if those actions are driven by good or bad intentions. Even when no one’s looking, you have to live with yourself.
Did you know? Terri briefly becomes fixated on killing mice (and then birds) with mouse traps, clearly fascinated by waiting to see life devour something else besides him. Side note, however: If you’re throwing away mice you’ve caught, wear some gloves, man.

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Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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