Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is a 15-year-old who is quiet if not reclusive and he's having a difficult time fitting in socially at school. He's a decent and responsible kid who lives with and cares for an uncle with Alzheimer's disease. But he's severely overweight, harassed by other boys and has taken to wearing pajamas to school every day, explaining to principal Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) that sleepwear is more comfortable than regular clothes. Watching Terri slip into further alienation and trouble more often, Fitzgerald takes him under his wing.
In Fitzgerald, Terri finally finds someone who takes an interest in him, which makes him feel special, until he realizes all of the kids getting similar attention have serious discipline or psychological issues. Sitting outside the principal's office, he meets Chad (Bridger Zadina), a profound loner, and Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), whose need for acceptance has left her sexually humiliated by a boy. They aren't natural friends, but the trio ends up sharing a common sense of being spurned by their peers.
Azazel Jacob's film is a far cry from The Breakfast Club, John Hughes' iconic dramedy about high school kids who feel trapped by their respective social stereotypes and meet because they are all in detention. Jacob's impressive first feature, Momma's Man (2008), was about a married man who essentially moves back in with his parents because he craves the carefree life of adolescence. Terri is a much more mature and fully realized treatment of the anxieties that come with growing up. It makes complicated teen angst palpable, but it's not just angst, the kids are suffering at the hands of others. The three share a long night in which they reveal themselves to one another, often through confrontation, and the scenes are exquisitely tense and unpredictable, brilliantly capturing the uncertainty of those teen years as alcohol loosens their inhibitions.
Reilly (Talladega Nights, Gangs of New York, Boogie Nights) is excellent as Fitzgerald, who is far from perfect and has his own problems. Fitzgerald offers some hard truths about honesty and coping that sometimes leave Terri feeling betrayed. It isn't light and easy, but the film delivers a very engaging in-the-moment treatment of teens on the verge of making hard choices in situations where they don't know much about where those choices lead. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
Thru. Sept. 1
7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net