PARK CITY, UTAH—Azazel Jacobs wrote and directed one of the best American independent films in past few years, 2008’s Momma’s Man. Jacobs’s latest film, Terri, premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition. In Minneapolis, it opens this Friday at the Uptown Theatre.
Jacobs, who is the son of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, is a born filmmaker; with Terri, his stock is only on the rise. Working from a script by novelist Patrick de Witt, Jacobs’s direction is spot-on. His use of editing makes for some perfectly timed moments. Impressive newcomer Jacob Wysocki, making his feature film debut, plays the title character; and veteran actor John C. Reilly (Chicago, Cedar Rapids), plays high school principal Mr. Fitzgerald. Other actors featured in Terri include Creed Bratton (NBC’s The Office), Olivia Crocicchia (FX’s Rescue Me), and Duluth native Bridger Zadina (NBC’s Law & Order: SVU) as delinquent classmate Chad.
Terri (Wysocki) has been abandoned by his parents and is left with his ailing uncle James (Bratton), and attends school is his pajamas most of the time. Terri is overweight, awkward, and shy has a hard time making friends, due his style and personality, he becomes a social outcast. While in school, he often cuts classes, and ends up in the principal’s office where he meets Chad (Zadina) almost every day. When Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly) notices Terri outside of his office, he confronts him about his behavior but he also finds a soft spot for him, since Mr. Fitzgerald knew what it was like to be a social outcast growing up. Gaining confidence from his meetings with Mr. Fitzgerald, Terri begins to enjoy school more and begins talking with attractive Heather (Crocicchia) in his Home Ec class; along with Chad, the three begin an unlikely bond that may make high school easier to survive—or, when they get together for an unexpected night out, maybe make things harder.
Terri finds humor in odd places and takes chances with the kind of dramatic moments that are a rarity in coming-of-age stories these days. Watching Wysocki go through the struggles of being an awkward kid in high school is something anyone can relate to; making friends or finding answers isn’t always as simple as it seems. The relationship between Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald is one of the more touching friendships I’ve seen on screen this year, and Reilly and Wysocki are the perfect teacher/pupil combination, bringing big laughs and plenty of the heart to Terri.
At Sundance I spoke with Director Azazel Jacobs and actor Jacob Wysocki, the day after their world premiere screening. Meeting them at the Marriott Hotel on a jam-packed press day for them and rearranging schedules was tough, but once the two sat down, they were both happy to talk about the film, discussing everything from Wysocki’s L.A. sketch comedy group to making comparisons between Momma’s Man and Terri to Bridger’s shoe size. The first question I asked of Jacobs was what had attracted him to the project, considering he didn’t write the script this time around.
Click the play button below to hear the interview.
Photo by Jim Brunzell III