Azazel Jacobs first came to Sundance in 2008 and his film "Momma's Man" became one of the hits of the festival with its uncanny blend of the personal and the fictional. With "Terri," directed by Jacobs from a screenplay by Patrick De Witt and playing as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition, Jacobs seems to be making a conscious bid for more mainstream acceptance, while still working entirely on his own terms.
Funny and strange, the film tells the story of an oversized teenager named Terri (Jacob Wysocki, in his feature film debut) who lives with his aging uncle (Creed Bratton). Having taken to wearing pajamas to school and all but giving up on the idea of a social life, Terri is taken under the wing of his eccentric vice-principal (John C. Reilly). Suddenly, and largely without meaning to, Terri finds himself with a sidekick best-friend (Bridger Zadina) and the interest of a girl (Olivia Crocicchia).
Following Thursday afternoon's screening to a jampacked Eccles Theater, there were huge bursts of appaulse for Jacobs, Wysocki and Crocicchia as they all took the stage with three of the film's producers. It is not unfair (and meant in a complimentary way) to say "Terri" is among the nicest films at Sundance, the most attuned to making the best of a bad situation and finding what's good-hearted in everyone. As Riley's character says at one moment by way of dispensing advice, "Life's a mess, dude."
I snagged a few moments alone with Jacobs as he walked down a long corridor alongside the theater just after the post-screening Q&A, enough time for a couple of questions about his sidelong take on the teen picture.
"I think inherently the story Pat gave me was a familiar story, and I wanted to respond to these movies that helped shape me just as much as other independent or abstract work," Jacobs said of the film's more accessible sensibility. Along the way he mentioned the films of John Hughes, "The Chocolate War," "Clueless" and the recent indie "Afterschool" as ones he looked at for inspiration and said he and Wysocki specifically watched Hal Ashby's "Being There" and Joseph Losey's "The Servant" with regard to tone.
"I felt that if I did this film from my point of view there could be something different than what we'd seen," he added. "And I still wanted to be part of that conversation."
Though he didn't write the script himself, Jacobs said he feels it comes from his sensibility.
"I had planned to co-write it and the pages were coming, like every five or six pages," Jacobs said, "and then I realized he didn't need any of my help. In a weird way, even though I didn't write it, because they were coming in bits and pieces I would help with editing and shaping and doing whatever I could. Pretty much every other day I'd get something, so instead of physically doing it, it still felt like something that was growing inside me."
-- Mark Olsen in Park City, Utah
Scene from "Terri." Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival