Review: Zero Charisma (2013)
December 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
(10/10) Often times, the people we hate most are those we also connect with most on a shameful level. I think the people we pity the most, if not for dire circumstances, are those who’ve allowed the personality traits we fear most in ourselves to overtake them until there’s nothing else but the negative, the unattractive, the pathetic. Scott (Sam Eidson) is that person, for me.
Crowd-funded and produced by show host extraordinaire Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist podcast, ‘Zero Charisma’ follows Scott, a game master for a Dungeons & Dragons-type home made board game that he plays thrice weekly, without fail, with a group of similarly minded and proud geeks. The rest of the guys are merely of average looks and pocket protector-accessorized fashion sensibilities, while Scott is proudly King Geek, so wrapped up in his fantasy world that any intrusion by real life sends him off the deep end without warning. Imagine a doctor with no bedside manner, then give him an inferiority complex and no credentials to fall back on and you’ve got Scott.
Fired from his old job at a comic book and games store, Scott is barely subsisting at a Chinese take out buffet while living with his scrappy grandmother. She puts up with his game nights and delusions of control in a house where he doesn’t pay any bills or does any heavy lifting to speak of. His only solace in life is being Game Master in his self-created tabletop RPG. When new gamer Miles (Garrett Graham)joins after one of the old guys gives it up to save his relationship with his wife, Scott cannot accept either his old friend’s martial woes or his new friend’s affable personality or professional success, being a published and paid writer with a beautiful, well adjusted and welcoming girlfriend. Miles works for a popular movie news site called GeekChic (a generic reference to wonderful sites like JoBlo.com, ComingSoon.net, SuperHeroHype.com HitFix.com aintitcoolnews.com, etc. See? I’m a geek. There’s my street cred right there!), gets exclusive set visits and insider scoops and rocks hipster-approved thick black glasses with some well-shaped facial hair. He’s everything Scott wishes he could be, but knows he’ll never achieve. People like Miles are the reason Scott hides from the world. Scott quickly realizes he’s made a huge mistake in allowing a man with Total Charisma to highjack his flimsy kingdom of Game Master status.
I’ve known a few people like Scott: Never had a girlfriend, probably never been with a woman and obsesses over fantasies fit for seven year olds playing with plastic weapon replicas, though Scott appears to be verging on forty. A more mainstream film would find Scott gradually getting made over, meeting a girl who accepts him and generally turning his life around. Luckily, ‘Zero Charisma” is dealing in reality and probability. A guy with Scott’s outlook and personality (at forty, no less) will never change.
The film’s main point is examining what it takes for people to stop putting up with Scott’s bullying social graces when he has no leg to stand on, while acknowledging the thin line between chic geekdom and the kind of nerdiness that renders someone a social pariah.
As Scott’s world unravels due to normal problems, such as his grandmother having a stroke and his mother moving back in for financial reasons, he finds his cocoon of gaming supremacy cracked wide open by the slick, self-aware and charismatic Miles, who, despite his love for board games and nerdy factoids, manages to balance his personal interests with a public image of casual cool. This won’t fly with a man who hides from his psychic pain by convincing his closest friends that they’re unwanted by the world and must band together to protect their feelings.
The film calls Scott on his issues through other characters’ rage over his rude and gruff demeanor. There’s no doubt that Scott is selfish and a bit of a prick to literally everybody, but the film takes efforts to acknowledge the genuineness of his geekiness versus the hipster version of geekdom, as well as subtle hints that his rudeness is a facade for his inner turmoil and loneliness.
In the end, either you will not understand the point of Zero Charisma, because you don’t connect with Scott and his friends, or you’ll have a love-hate relationship with the film as I do, precisely because of how much you connect, as I did, with the characters and their interpersonal issues.
It’s an awkward emotional journey that is brutally honest and razor sharp in its denouement about the darkest parts of fandom and the eternal struggle for anybody and everybody to fit in, find their place in the world. Sam Eidson is a revelation, embodying Scott’s unhealthy emotions with documentary-level accuracy, to the point that one must seek out his other performance to confirm they didn’t just find a real-world Scott and teach him how to read lines.
I give Zero Charisma a begrudging recommendation as a must-see indie with its heart in the right place and its hand on its subjects’ pulses.