Hollywood has long had an obsession with making films about ‘nerds’ or ‘geeks, the problem is that most of those filmmakers have apparently never met one. With rare exception (Scott Pilgrim, you may carry on), filmmakers work more from stereotypes or caricatures, rather than the true embodiment of those that live their day-to-day in these communities. The movie ‘Zero Charisma‘ aims to change that.
Scott (Sam Eidson) serves as Game Master to a Dungeons & Dragons inspired table top game. For those unaware, a Game Master essentially dictates the actions and progress in any game of this sort, he has the ultimate control. The problem for Scott is that he has no control of anything back in the real world. His job at the Donut Taco Palace carries no dignity, he lives with his grandmother, and his life has no true meaning outside the confines of this game.
He is also one of the most overbearing and unsympathetic characters I have seen on film in some time. While Scott is not someone that is truly mean-spirited, he is so obsessed with controlling or manipulating those around him in the same manner than he does within the game, that ‘likeable’ is not a character trait many watching the film will entertain.
When Scott is forced to bring a new player into the group in the form of Miles (Garrett Graham), all of his nightmares come true. Miles is the hipster geek of the now, and Scott’s true opposite in this realm. Miles is fun, successful, has a beautiful girlfriend, and most of all: People like him. His friends begin to realize that Scott’s demeaning behavior might not be how this game should truly be played.
When Miles threatens to dismantle Scott’s last bastion of control at the table, Scott’s world begins to unwind as he spins more and more out of control. This leads to a confrontation between the two of them that is equal parts sad and hysterical.
To say all of that would be a waste if the character of Scott did not work and Sam Eidson plays him pitch perfect. This is not a film where you are supposed to love the main character; you are simply supposed to understand him. Scott is a flawed man with deep self-esteem issues, many of which we come to comprehend in the film’s heartfelt subplot involving his estranged mother returning to gain even more control over Scott’s life. These events are important to the character as they explain why Scott is the way he is, why his role as Game Master is so important to him as it his only escape from the inadequacies that surround him. Eidson plays Scott as someone trying desperately to control the only aspect of his life that he can, and alienating everyone around him for doing so. A hard performance to pull off and Eidson more than measures up.
Garrett Graham as Miles handles the role of the ‘fun’ geek; the one most of the real world would be friends with, as they shunned those like Scott into a corner. Graham does a stellar job of keeping the audience at bay with debate over if we should root for or against Miles, and at the film’s conclusion, I am still unsure.
Anne Byrd and Cyndi Williams as Scott’s grandmother and mother, and Brock England as Wayne, Scott’s best friend, all add greatly to the depth of Scott as a character and accent the story well, but my favorite addition to the film was Kendra (Katie Folger). Kendra is Miles’ girlfriend, an attractive and intelligent woman who is not in the film serving some sexed up quota most films about geeks feel they have to maintain. She is someone that respects these guys and never condescends over this crazy game that they all enjoy, which is quite refreshing to see on celluloid.
Writer/Co-Director Andrew Matthews and Co-Director Katie Graham present this world not as to say ‘Look, we respect geeks!’, but instead to tell a story about a man losing control. The fact that they managed to do that, end the film on their own terms, and still respect the characters inhabiting this world is something Hollywood needs to pay more attention to.
Zero Charisma is one of those small gems that comes around every so often, a film you would probably be unaware of, were it not for strong word-of-mouth. Every one of these characters I have met in my life, it has just taken many years for a filmmaker to finally get them right.
If $10 is the full price of admission, Zero Charisma is worth $7.50.
The Hollywood Outsider