Film Review – Zero Charisma
Zero Charisma seems like a curious choice for Nerdist Industries’ first foray into movie production. Not on the outset, of course. The story of an overgrown nerd with a penchant for pop culture references and a no-bullshit attitude seems right in the wheelhouse. But this is less a celebration of nerd culture than a queasy dissection. And it sticks with you.
Austin staple Sam Eidson stars as Scott Weidemeyer, a loutish oaf who serves as Grand Master of a fantasy board game of his own invention. Each week he invites his devoted circle of geeky friends to play while verbally berating them at every turn. Seemingly devoid of sympathy or self-reflection, Scott bullies his way into the position of de facto group leader. Game night gives him a sense of place. Hurling insults disguised as friendly jabs, Scott attempts to distract himself from the harsh realities of living with his grandmother and working a dead-end job. These are his people…whether they like it or not.
In need of a new player when a friend drops out to save his dying marriage, Scott desperately searches for a replacement. Enter Miles (Garrett Graham), a comic store patron Scott convinces to join. Miles is the epitome of the modern-day hipster. With his fitted vintage clothing and attractive girlfriend, he effortlessly becomes a god to them. Not to mention his sixer of beer and substantiated geek credentials. (A debate over the velocity of the Starship Enterprise versus the Millenium Falcon is particularly inspired.) Miles is everything Scott’s group aspires to be. All but Scott, of course. He immediately views him as a threat and thrashes out in some of the film’s best (if uncomfortable) moments.
Eidson gives it his all as the often-irredeemable Weidemeyer, and his commitment is admirable. I’ve known a few Scotts in my life, and they’re utterly unbearable. Centering a movie around someone so distinctly unlikeable is a risky proposition, though, even once we’re headed full speed to his inevitable eye-opening and redemption. Directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews seem to revel in the harsh realities of nerd culture, although they manage to avoid most stereotypical pitfalls. Take the character of Miles, for instance. While ostensibly the movie’s “villain,” he’s not some scenery-chewing Billy Zabka. If anything, he’s a tourist. Coasting by on his charms, he dips his toes into uncharted waters. Unfortunately for him, he’s stumbled upon a shark.
As is required, there’s an eventual showdown between the two and, sadly, this is where Zero Charisma loses its footing. We’re seemingly expected to be rooting for Scott despite his non-stop despicable behavior. Furthermore, Miles is suddenly revealed to be something of a prick, one of the film’s few but glaring false notes. It’s all a little too pat, and left me disappointed with what is otherwise a pretty fascinating character study.
I myself have never been a gamer, but the interactions felt authentic enough to me. I’ve recommended this movie to friends who are gamers, and will be very curious to hear their response. It doesn’t shine the most flattering light, but you gotta admire its balls.