(2011) Coming of Age (ATO) Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Creed Bratton, Olivia Crocicchia, Bridger Zadina, Tim Heidecker, Justin Prentice, Mary Anne McGarry, Curtiss Frisle, Tara Karsian, Diane Louise Salinger, Lisa Hoover, Jenna Gavigan, Jessica D. Stone, Jamie Lee Redmon. Directed by Azazel Jacobs
Fitting in is pretty much all we aspire to, particularly in high school where it reaches a place of importance somewhat higher than breathing. There are always non-conformists who kind of find their own way but it is nearly always at the expense of pride and self-esteem, as they undergo a gauntlet of vicious teasing that skips over the line right into cruelty, thank you very much.
Terri (Wysocki) is one such non-conformist. He lives with his Uncle James (Bratton, best known for his work on “The Office”) who is elderly, sick and maybe afflicted with dementia. Terri does the best he can, for if Terri’s parents are around we never see them. He is forced to miss a few days of school, which attracts the attention of Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly), the vice-principal who has problems of his own and recognizes Terri’s good heart and strong potential.
They develop an unlikely friendship, even a Terri is picked on mercilessly. He wears pajamas to school for one thing (Roger Ebert applauded this as an indication of character but it is really a one-way ticket to non-stop ridicule) and he is a little smarter than most of his peers. He has no real friends. At his uncle’s insistence he puts some rat traps in the attic and on his way to school, dutifully lays the corpses on a log in the wooded area between his house and school. One day, he watched a carrion eating bird consume the corpse. After this, he makes a habit of baiting the log.
This might sound weird, morbid and even cruel but it really isn’t. Terri is actually a good-hearted soul. He’s made some other friends – a misfit named Chad (Bratton) who has a tendency to act out, and Heather (Crocicchia) who was almost expelled for performing a sex act in a home economics class until Terri took the rap for her. They make an odd trio but an endearing one.
They learn valuable social skills through trial and error because high school is a time to make mistakes. The problem with high school is that it is a time to make mistakes and they begin to make some doozies. Can their fragile friendships survive?
This is one of those movies that doesn’t come at you with some grand revelation or mindbending twist. While these are all unique individuals, they aren’t quirky indie film caricatures. They are real people – flawed yes, damaged goods yes. In short, just like the rest of us. They’ve had their share of bumps and bruises over the road of their journey but they manage to keep on trucking down that road.
Wysocki is largely unknown but he delivers a self-assured performance. It’s genuine and honest and while there’s a unvarnished sense to it, i wouldn’t call it raw. This is more the performance of a young actor who has a good grasp on his character and some excellent abilities. Sadly, Wysocki’s girth make it unlikely that the weight-conscious Hollywood casting agents will ever give him a part this memorable again unless it’s in a comedic context. Hollywood long ago made the decision that overweight actors would only be accepted in comedies. Because, apparently, fat people don’t have stories to tell – none that anybody wants to hear, anyway.
Reilly is always Re-Reilly-able (har har har) and he is no less so here. He is a high school administrator who is not a bureaucrat but an individual who legitimately wants to make a difference in the lives of his kids. He is not without damage either, and sometimes he expresses himself awkwardly in the way of adults trying to relate to kids on their own level and with their own language (generally good six months to a year behind the current idioms). While there are some inherent creepiness to Mr. Fitzgerald’s relationship with Terri (I always get suspicious of adults wanting to be too friendly with high school kids which is kind of sad but that’s the time we live in) the movie is sweet enough and has enough humanity to make the relationship work.
This is not an exhilarating movie to say the least; it moves a little too ponderously for that. It doesn’t necessarily engage a great deal of contemplation, although the more cerebral viewer might opt for it. No, this is a movie simply to be experienced, to be allowed to envelop you and soak into you, like bathing in a cool pond on a warm summer’s day at twilight. It’s imperfect but life’s a lot like that. And Terri is a lot like life.
WHY RENT THIS: Well acted and never loses sight of the film’s inner humanity. Flawed characters seem much more real and less archetypal.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes seems willfully quirky. Mr. Fitzgerald’s relationship with Terri is a bit creepy.
FAMILY VALUES: The movie has a good deal of bad language, some teen drug and alcohol use and a fair bit of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: For the weekend it was released, only Transformers: Dark of the Moon had a higher per-screen box office average.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $655,802 on an unreported production budget; I think it probably made a slight profit.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fat Girl
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Words