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posted: 7/21/2011 12:01 AM

Dann in reel life: Quirky 'Terri' an anti-John Hughes movie

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  • Terri (Jacob Wysocki), left, has a heart-to-heart with Vice Principal Fitzgerald (Chicago's own John C. Reilly) in the quirky character study "Terri."

    Terri (Jacob Wysocki), left, has a heart-to-heart with Vice Principal Fitzgerald (Chicago's own John C. Reilly) in the quirky character study "Terri."


Reel Life mini-review: 'Terri'

Chicago actor John C. Reilly has never been timid about stretching his limits, and his fearlessness gives him one of the freshest and quirkiest characters of his career in Azazel Jacobs' equally quirky coming-of-age character study "Terri."

Reilly plays Mr. Fitzgerald, the loopy, unorthodox vice principal of a small high school. A sensitive and well-meaning doofus, Mr. Fitzgerald divides students into three groups: good hearts, bad hearts and the rest. He thinks Terri is a good heart.

The insecure, overweight Terri (played with magnanimous heart and total lack of vanity by an impressive Jacob Wysocki) has no parents, just sickly Uncle James ("The Office" regular Creed Bratton) to care for.

The idea of communicating with people terrifies him. Girls captivate and horrify him. He's a complete mess who wear pajamas to school everyday, then tries to be invisible.

Mr. Fitzgerald takes the lad under his wing, sensing that just a little encouragement might help Terri. Fitzgerald also tries to help other school misfits, among them the self-destructive Chad (Bridger Zadina) and sexually active Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), who eventually form bonds with the struggling Terri.

"Terri," directed by Jacobs from Patrick deWitt's insightful script, throws away the Hollywood playbook on coming-of-age stories and gets down to an extremely realistic view of adolescent dilemma involving the need to rebel and the fear of alienation.

Death in "Terri" is handled almost as dark comedy, while an impending act of intimacy comes on like a horror tale.

Forget about mouthy, precocious kids smarter than the adults. Forget about wise adults knowing all the answers.

This a quiet, unassuming view of flawed, frayed and friendly relationships, raw and unfiltered through Hollywood formula. It's the anti-John Hughes school movie.

"Life is messy," Mr. Fitzgerald says to Terri. They both prove it.

Over and over.

"Terri" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago and CineArts 6 in Evanston. Rated R for substance abuse, language and sexual situations. 101 minutes. ★ ★ ★

What? Not shocked?

Hello Dann: You mentioned in your response to an email that there was no suspense in "Transformers 3," but there is no way that you can honestly tell me that you were not shocked (SPOILER ALERT) when Sentinel Prime betrayed the Autobots and Optimus? -- AJ Jedrzejewski

Dear AJ: Believe it or not, I wasn't shocked by the betrayal. In fact, I predicted it. It was much easier than you might imagine. How?

One of Hollywood's most often-used clichés is to put prominent film or theater stars in smaller or seemingly insignificant roles, who then turn out to be "surprise" killers or criminal masterminds. (Carey Elwes in "Kiss the Girls," Michael Rooker in "Sea of Love," Broadway star Len Cariou in "Lady in White," Ewan McGregor in "Angels and Demons.")

A super science-fiction star such as Leonard Nimoy doing a robot voice-over in a Michael Bay movie? That was my first clue.

The second clue is another tested Hollywood cliché: the surprise criminal mastermind or agent of betrayal who turns out to be a beyond-suspicion trusted confidant, usually a mentor, best friend, business partner or sibling. (Max Von Sydow in "Minority Report," Tony Goldwyn in "Ghost," Tom Sizemore in "Strange Days," Ben Kingsley in "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.")

It became obvious, at least to me, that in "Dark Side of the Moon," Nimoy's character didn't have much of a function in the story. (Another giveaway.) Unless, of course, he would have an Auto-motive to turn against the Autobots.

If you go to my website called and look under Pages in a file titled "100 Ways to Get a Bad Review" (it's a work in progress), you'll see these two clichés are No. 49 and No. 50 on my list, which includes most of the clichés that really annoy me about Hollywood movies.

AJ, I appreciated your long email outlining your dissatisfaction with the final battle between Harry and Voldemort in "Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," but you had so many spoilers in it, that I opted not to print it at this time. Meanwhile, it's good that we both agree on the sublime merits of "The Prisoner of Azkaban." -- Dann

French film fest

The film "The Hedgehog" -- based on Muriel Barbery's best-seller -- won't open in Chicago until Sept. 9, but you can see it early if you catch the closing night showing of it at the Chicago French Film Festival, Friday through Sunday at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. Go to for tickets (they cost $10) and a schedule. Eight films, including hits from the Cannes, Toronto and TriBeCa Film Festivals, will be presented.

More Blue Whiskey!

The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival continues through Saturday at the Cutting Hall Performing Arts Center, 150 E. Wood St., Palatine.

The festival wraps up Sunday morning at the Hotel Bollero (formerly Hotel Indigo), 920 E. Northwest Hwy., Palatine, with an awards buffet brunch. I'll present a brief salute to the importance of independent moviemakers.

Tickets, passes and details are available at Tickets go for $12. A Saturday pass costs $30.

Festival Director Michael P. Noens is a graduate of Fremd High School in Palatine, as well as a member of CNGM Pictures, a company of Fremd grads who have been making movies together since their high school days.

Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!