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The amazing thing about the Sundance Film Festival is that even the tiniest movie with no stars can sell out packed theaters one people start talking about them. That doesn't mean they'll be hits in theaters or sell to a distributor for millions, but for the handful of screenings they have at Sundance, they're playing to captivated crowds of hundreds or even thousands-- something immensely gratifying for independent filmmakers who work in obscurity and fight tooth and nail for every dollar of funding they ever get.
And even though Azazel Jacobs' first film Momma's Man was a hit only among critics and the small audiences who saw it, and though his new film Terri featured only John C. Reilly and Creed Bratton as "stars" (and in supporting roles), Terri played to a sold-out Eccles Theater (capacity 1200) when I saw it last week. A few days later I got to sit down with Jacobs, with his wild hair and quiet demeanor, and ask him how he came to make his second film about a high school misfit, a kind of play on the John Hughes coming-of-age genre with bits of realism and dark humor sprinkled throughout.
In Terri newcomer Jacob Wysocki plays the titular teenager, grossly overweight and wearing only pajamas to school, caring for his senile uncle (Bratton) and take under the wing of the assistant principal (Reilly), who's plenty strange on his own. Perpetually friendless, Terri eventually strikes up a relationship with both a fellow boy outcast (Bridger Zadina) and a formerly popular pretty girl (Olivia Crocicchia) now ostracized after a very public sexual encounter. Terri's life doesn't exactly change over the course of the film but it does expand, in ways both somewhat similar to the old school Hughes movies-- particularly the friendship with Heather-- and in new ways as well.
I talked to Jacobs, whose Momma's Man actually starred his own parents, why he made something so separate from his own life with Terri, how he got John C. Reilly to star in the film, and how he took inspiration from high school films of the past. Terri is being distributed by ATO Films, so look for it in theaters later this year.