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Review: Nerd Dramedy ‘Zero Charisma’ Lives Up To Its Title

Review: Nerd Dramedy 'Zero Charisma' Lives Up To Its Title

Well, thank God for accurate titles. “Zero Charisma” takes the viewer into
the world of hardcore roleplaying games, this one ruled over by a behemoth
named Scott (Sam Eidson). A twentysomething living with his grandmother and
barely earning a living wage at a local donut shop, nothing much seems to faze
Scott, who happily tends to his world of fantasy and escapism, disappearing
into his dingy room of models, science fiction, and the elaborate “Dungeons And
”-type RPG he’s devised. This game has allowed the bullish Scott to
basically enslave his four close friends, and they’ve been participating in
Game Night for three years, wrapping up a campaign for Scott, the dungeon

Credit to Eidson’s performance that much of this character’s petty
one-upmanship feels accurate and lived-in. Nerds no longer hide their interests
like teenagers shuffling their pornography under the bed. A general acceptance
of toys, fantasy and superheroes has resulted in Scott and his type, in real
life and in the film, playing the bully, making up for lost time. There’s not
much that Scott likes: he curses popular online game “World Of Warcraft” and
scoffs at the successful comics and hobby shop he frequents because of their
active gaming scene which seems to have blossomed due to an all-inclusive
approach to incoming gamers. He has a poster on the wall for a film called
Ninjas Vs. Zombies.” It’s easy to imagine him sitting through that film
mocking it and discussing its flaws. It’s also easy to imagine he owns the DVD.

The game’s integrity is breached when one participant, a middle-aged
husband, opts to drop out when he learns his wife is leaving him. Real life
just got too real for this pretend-adventurer, and, in the film’s most knowing
moment, he places a hand on Scott’s shoulder, gently acknowledging that
this overgrown manchild couldn’t possibly understand the dynamics of a
relationship (when chastised for never having a girlfriend, he defensively
replies, “It’s because I don’t want to get tied down, you know that!”). The
search for a new player begins, but Scott is ultimately just doomed to reject
every viable candidate.

The cruelest thing to do would be to re-imagine the film from the
perspective of Miles (Garrett Graham), the eventual new player. Miles is cool
as a cucumber, a good looking hipster with the slightest affectation of obnoxiousness.
At first he seems like a ringer, his interest in this world tourist-y at best.
Once he explains why, scientifically, the Millennium Falcon is faster than the
USS Enterprise, all bets are off. Graham is quite good at playing someone who
is superficially a good guy, but with a slight self-absorption that suggests he
believes every compliment he receives.

Of course, maybe the cruelest thing to do would have been the best thing to
do. Miles’ incursion into the game (he brings a six pack! Egads!) sends Scott
into a tailspin of jealousy and hatred, one that finally allows his walls to
come down. Each ensuing problem that emerges is his own fault, and he can’t
seem to avoid placing his happiness, or even basic contentment, over the
comfort of others. Being a “gamemaster” enhances his feelings of superiority
over his friends. In real life, his job is miserable, his grandmother is
insulting, and his visiting mother has just arrived to take some control over
his sedentary lifestyle. In one of the film’s broader strokes, her new beau
tries to talk to Scott about the Dallas Cowboys game. Scott thinks he’s talking about

Because of his physical stature, Scott seems like one of those new-wave
nerds, one who never experienced bullying as a kid and now thinks his interests
in cave trolls and fairies is legit, enough to block out his other
responsibilities as an adult. Eidson gives him a believable rage, but little
else. You end up siding with Miles and company when politeness breaks down and
people begin to wish he would start growing up a bit. Scott is a sociopath, and
the film’s dark tone and constantly (and cheaply) under-lit indoor sequences
feel like the only real diagnosis the film presents. The direction from Katie
and Andrew Matthews, dry and punctuated by heavy metal bursts on the
soundtrack, suggests they’re making a geek “Taxi Driver.”

Ultimately, there’s a
vibe to “Zero Charisma” that suggests it’s made by geeks and for geeks. It
would take a geek to notice some of the specific touches, like the
passive-aggressive judgment that comes from trying to be “true” friends
compared to non-geeks. But mostly you’re stunned that Scott is basically let
off the hook, particularly in a third act that forces a way to make the
otherwise-normal Miles into something of a villain. There’s a unique lead
character here, but mostly in regards to how repellant and obnoxious he is, and
how he spends a good 90% of this movie set in his ways, loudly cursing and
continuing to slave over his garbage RPG, which doesn’t seem to have any real
fans. There’s a nugget of truth in this film’s depiction of nerd life, as there
should be, given that it’s produced by Nerdist Industries. It doesn’t excuse
that fact that it’s an ugly, unpleasant viewing experience, one that sees geek
culture as a hateful cesspool of exclusion and juvenility, miserable to
experience first-hand. Congratulations? [D]

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