The title of my anti-biography…
Scott is a game master for his own self-written Role Playing Game (think Dungeons and Dragons), and is quite content with his typical routine of meeting with his friends each week for the last three years, and continuing the game’s quest. Things take a turn when a new player, who just happens to be everything that Scott’s friends wish that they could be, enters the game and Scott’s world goes into upheaval. Miles is popular, has a larger circle of friends, is close to being published (where Scott only talks about meeting with publishers), and most of all, for this group – GASP! He has a girlfriend. How far will Scott be forced to go in his epic battle against this “nerd tourist”?
I should start by saying that, while I have many of my own nerdy obsessions, Dungeons and Dragons (or similar RPG) is one that I have no experience with. I only mention this to let you know, while the movie does take place in that gaming world, you absolutely do not have to have any prior knowledge in order to enjoy this film (other than, possibly, not understanding the double meaning of the clever title). All you need to know is that it’s a well written, produced, and acted dramedy.
This is a film that lives or dies by its lead character. We spend almost the entire running time of the film with Scott, so Sam Eidson’s performance must be able to hold our attention. Fortunately, he has created a character that balances the difficult task of having to maintain our sympathy as his world falls apart, but yet not being entirely likeable. As much as we root for Scott, we’re glad to have the barrier of a movie screen between his world and ours. He gives a fascinating performance as a guy who takes his fantasy world too seriously and must deal with the fact that everything he has loved is being systematically ripped away from him. He plays the comedy and drama pieces equally well. He is surrounded by equally great supporting performances, but make no mistake – this is Eidson’s show and he handles it beautifully.
One interesting thing that the filmmakers do that sets itself apart from other movies where a “loser” is forced to rise up against all of the indecencies that are piled against him, is to not portray a clear-cut bad guy. Sure, Miles’ mere presence has slowly destroyed Scott’s world, but he’s really not that bad of a guy, which makes it that much more interesting. He just happens to drink microbrews and have occasionally hung out with celebrities, but his only real crime is being a bit obnoxious about his achievements. This is a fact that actually hints at Miles’ own insecurities – does he, in reality, want what Scott has: a group of actual friends (as opposed to just a clan of hipsters that like to gather at parties and one up each other)? The argument could be made that the actual villain of the piece would be Scott’s mother, who is a large part of the reason that he has turned out the way that he has, and just continues to make things worse for him when she re-enters his life, including a scene that is equally hilarious and painful as she sits in for a round of Scott’s game.
While Zero Charisma was filmed on a micro-budget, the look of the film absolutely betrays that fact. Excellent cinematography and production design give the appearance of not quite a big budget studio film (which would be unnecessary for a movie like this), but a well made indie with a pretty modest budget. The creators are also wise to keep the majority of the “geek speak” to a minimum so that it’s not a tough shell for you “normal” people to crack through. One scene in particular in which the group hashes out an argument that has plagued them for years, yet newbie Miles is able to settle in a matter of seconds, will either be hilarious to you (yep), or you just won’t be bothered to care. Either way, it’s over in an instant. Some may find the ending to be a bit unsatisfying (there was a point late in the third act that hinted at a turn that I wasn’t sure I wanted it to go or not), but it feels absolutely natural in getting there and you won’t question it one bit once it does.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS:
While this movie is about Dungeons and Dragons on the surface level, don’t let your unfamiliarity with the subject deter you. In reality, it’s a very funny character study of a man who had everything (in his eyes, certainly not yours), loses it all, and then must fight to gain it back. It could have just as easily taken place in any environment – sports, corporate world, law enforcement, dog fighting, fortune cookie writing, rodeo clowning, those guys who hand you soap and mouthwash in the bathrooms of the restaurants that I only pretend to be able to afford, etc… The only thing that matters is that you’ll laugh, you’ll empathize, you’ll be entertained, you’ll see a bit of yourself in the lead character, and you may even be compelled to pick up a pair of dice and go on a quest of your own. This is a surprise success from some of the creative forces behind one of my favorite movies of 2009 (Best Worst Movie) and I’m sure that Zero Charisma will be on this year’s list as well.
Review by Jason Howard. Special to Influx Magazine