There are nerds, and then there are nerds. Nerds may like to flash a retro gaming shirt or spout Star Wars trivia, whereas nerds tend to obsess over their interests and fascinations. It’s cool to be proud and comfortable about the things we love, but when our obsessive fascinations begin to stop being fun and shape us into wholly negative people, where should the line be drawn?
[This review was originally written as part of Flixist’s coverage of South by Southwest 2013. It is being reposted (along with a rather substantial second opinion) to coincide with the film’s VOD release and New York premiere.]
Directors: Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews
Release Date: October 11, 2013 (VOD/iTunes, New York)
Scott (Sam Eidson) is a late 20-something living with his grandmother while hosting a weekly tabletop RPG with his friends as the sometimes overbearing Game Master. When an opening comes up in the three-year-long game and with no interest from any of Scott’s other “friends,” he desperately recruits Miles (Garrett Graham). However, when his friends begin to gravitate towards the much cooler, hipper Miles, a psuedo-rivalry is started between the two.
Zero Charisma hones in on these two drastically different types of nerds, as Flixist Editor-in-Chief and I defined as the nerds and “the nerds.”There’s Scott, who is sometimes narcissistic, constantly demeaning towards his friends, and a generally unlikable guy. Then there’s Miles, who’s cool, calm, and collected, yet prone to moments of being “holier than thou” with his undercover nerdiness.
The funny thing about Zero Charisma is that these characters are people I’ve both known and seen in my life. Their portrayals are extremely accurate, right down to the wardrobe choices of Scott and Miles. They contrast between Scott’s metal-inspired vests and shirts and Miles’ cardigans and band shirts. But beyond their physical appearances, their performances were remarkable. You can’t help but laugh when Scott goes into a hissy fit, yet immediately feel terrible about it right after.
It’s this sincerity that helped make Zero Charisma so good. Scott is unlikeable character from beginning to end, but you can empathize with him. Again, this might be due in part because I’m accustomed to people like him, but you understand that his personality isn’t rooted in bad thoughts but in a troubled past where he found an escape in tabletop gaming. Once that is taken away from him, you feel for him. He’s still rotten and acts outrageously, but at least you can understand why.
Zero Charisma is a funny film that has just as much heart as it does laughs. Honestly, I wasn’t really expecting a heartfelt, feel-good film going in, but I’m glad that it ultimately was an entertaining film. Considering the process the filmmakers went through to create the film, it’s great that Zero Charisma was an ultimately good film.
Alec Kubas-Meyer: I wrote about Zero Charisma before it was finished, back when it was running a second IndieGoGo campaign hoping to raise finishing funds to get it to South by Southwest. I asked the filmmakers some questions and did something both because I found it interesting and because I hoped it would help out. But somewhere in the back of my mind was a nagging fear that the final product wouldn’t have been worth my time or my readers’ money. When the first reviews came out of SXSW, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I didn’t want . I was excited for the film to come to NewYork, so I could see for myself what I had recommended to people.
Fortunately, the film had its New York premiere at Comic-Con. I honestly can’t think of a more perfect place to play it. The press was corralled together in two rows while the regular moviegoers were scattered throughout the audience. I only mention this because it was interesting to see what different groups laughed at. Sometimes the critics would laugh hysterically while the rest of the room was relatively quiet. But there was constant laughter, not because it was bad (like the subject of the Best Worst Movie, Troll 2, which was the directors’ previous project), but because it was genuinely funny.
I know nothing about Dungeons and Dragons; table top RPGs have never particularly appealed to me even as several of my friends have joined a weekly game and told me of their exploits on the high seas. It’s one of those areas where most of the people in that room probably grasped some of the subtleties a lot more than I did, but it didn’t make a difference in the end. This isn’t really a story about the game, even if that is the apparent focal point. It’s a story about the people who play the game, and what it can make them do, and what it means to play games.
It’s a strange film, in part because its main character never really grows up. He’s an aging man, but he acts like a teenage brat, and that’s true for almost the entire movie. The ending gives him the slightest bit of redemption, but for the most part it’s an unending downward spiral. Scott does something stupid, then something stupider, then something stupider, and Zero Charisma follows him down that rabbit hole. But that’s how people are sometimes, and the interplay between him and the others was consistently fascinating, even if it hurt me to watch some of the more awkward scenes. But even then, I laughed and laughed and laughed. The film is a celebration of nerd culture that will appeal to people who aren’t nerds. That’s one hell of an accomplishment. 81 – Great