Retro Review: Zero Charisma (2013)
A Story of Nerds, Geeks and Freaks
I have a confession:
I collect comics and action figures. Lots of them. I can argue endlessly about the differences between Evil Dead 1 and 2, as well as recall every Bruce Campbell movie or TV appearance. I play MMO’s and actually enjoy the “griefing” aspect at times.
Perhaps I am a geek, nerd or whatever… but thankfully I am not Scott Weidemeier.
Boy Hates World
Meet Scott (Sam Eidson,) an awkward, metal-head man-child, whose life is a series of annoyances. Whether it be his grandmother (who Scott resides with) or his boss (who is a constant pain in the ass,) Scott wearily weathers these obstacles. The one joy in Scott’s life is his weekly Dungeons and Dragons game.
Scott is the game master, the person that controls the story and game play of this table top game. This is a responsibility that Scott takes very seriously, to the point that he constantly lashes out at his “friends” when he feels they don’t take the game seriously enough. Tragedy strikes one week as one of the players quits (at his wife’s behest.) What you would think is a minor inconvenience is instead the start of Scott’s carefully built fantasy world unraveling.
Enter the Dragon…
This event leaves an opening at the weekly game, and into the void steps Miles (Garret Graham.) Miles is a modern nerd: He’s attractive, has a hot girlfriend, and writes a wildly successful blog – www.Nerdchic.com. He is the anti-Scott. To Scott’s mind, Miles is self-serving hipster that is using nerdom for personal gain, and therefore is his arch-rival.
As Miles slowly begins to replace Scott in their group, Scott begins to become even more unhinged, at home and at work, as the only place where he feels comfortable suddenly becomes a battle ground, and he is no longer the center of a tiny little universe he’s worked very hard to create.
Before we go any further with this review you have to understand Scott. In this era of comic book movies, super-heroes on every television, and video games as a major industry, everyone thinks they are a nerd. It’s cool to be obsessed with a niche form of entertainment or to be a rabid fan. Hell, Natalie Portman considers herself a nerd (though I seriously doubt she received the requisite number of wedgies that traditionally went with this title.) Nerds are big business these days…but it wasn’t always this way.
It used to be, if you liked any of the activities listed above, you were a weirdo, and were mercilessly persecuted for it. Scott is an old school nerd: his love of fantasy and niche culture is not a badge of pride…they are what he does instead of having any interpersonal skills, and he clings to them like a life preserver. He is decidedly not cool. Let’s say if Napoleon Dynamite was Obi-Wan Kenobi to the nerd community, Scott would be Anakin Skywalker: filled with rage and uncertainty… and pretty damn annoying to boot.
Scott represents the dark side of nerd subculture, He is obnoxious, and a bully who demeans and lies to his friends in an effort to “prove” he is superior to them. He would rather make outlandish claims such as that Hollywood ripped off his idea for The Matrix or how he has his own board game in the works, instead of actually accomplishing anything. Yes, Scott is many things,a potential sociopath amongst them, but as we learn, a lifetime of humiliation and hard luck has created this impenetrable armor of trollish behavior.
When Scott’s mom shows up to take care of his ailing grandmother, you learn she is not just a bad mom, but perhaps one of the worst. This insight shines a light on Scott’s vulnerability and may not make us like him any better, but at least we can empathize with just how he got to be so broken.
Co-Directors Katie Graham and Andrew Mathews do not shy away from Scott’s failings, and masterfully create a character that you loathe… but also care about. At the same time they paint Miles in a way where he is viscerally likable, even as you root for him to get taken down a peg. The characters are complex despite being recognizable stereotypes.
You do not need to be a D&D fan to enjoy this film (I’m sure not.) Sam Eidson’s performance is worth the entrance price alone, but what has stuck with me is the realness of this story. Zero Charisma pulls no punches and remains honest from the opening to the hard-hitting finale. It’s a film that helps you learn a little about yourself…and as a bonus, you may also learn the answer to one of life’s greatest mysteries: Which is faster the Millenium Falcon or the Enterprise?