In recent years nerd culture has become chic. Who would have thought such pass times as collecting comic books and playing video games could get you laid? Well maybe not laid but it’s a weird time when comic books and video games are hip. The upside to this recent trend is film makers like Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews tackling the subject of self delusional Dungeon Masters. A plot device like this probably wouldn’t have played so well 10 years ago, but this is the age we live in. The age of dork.
Scott (Sam Eidson) is the world’s greatest Game Master for the table top game of his own invention. Weekly matches are held in his grandma’s kitchen and Scott’s friends gather faithfully to eagerly continue the quest Scott has laid out. Or so he thinks. After the abrupt departure of one of the players, Scott begins searching for a player worthy of his genius or anyone willing to play. In comes Miles (Garrett Graham). A hip, funny and cool kind of nerd who, while blinded by desperation, Scott allows to join. Not long after Scott realizes he has some competition for head nerd. This “competition” is made worse when Scott’s estranged mother shows up back in town threatens to disrupt (even further) Scott’s world he has created for himself.
The same thought kept replaying in my mind as I was watching ZC: I know this guy. We all have a friend, co-worker or associate just like Scott. That guy who is so caught up in his own world that he fails to let anyone in who doesn’t agree with him. This normally leads to him isolating himself from others and blaming most of his problems on everyone else. In short he’s an asshole. Scott is this asshole, but there is something endearing about him. I couldn’t really pinpoint why, but I was rooting for this asshole. Even towards the climax when Scott confronts his self-proclaimed “arch nemesis” Miles. The second the head to head begins you know it’s going to end….well awkwardly.
Miles is not the real nemesis here. Scott is. Surrounding himself with feeble, soft-spoken friends who never challenge Scott on his overbearing forcefulness only helps to inflate his self-delusion. The delusion that his opinion is the only one that matters and everyone else is wrong. The only person to challenge him is his grandmother (Anne Gee Byrd), the only person on-screen who isn’t reluctant to take Scott’s shit. The relationship is beautiful in the marriage of love and resentment. They seem to not enjoy one and another but one can’t manage for long without the other. The one person that pushes Scott back is the person he needs the most. If only he could pull his head out of his own ass for a second and realize this.
The entire film rests on the shoulders of Sam Eidson and he pulls it off. It’s a hard job to play the main character as a jerk, but I’ll be damned if Sam doesn’t nail it. Pretty sure that’s a compliment even though it doesn’t feel like one. He’s a brute of a man and it is hard to believe that a man of his side could ever be bullied, but it also helps with believing why his friends let him push them around. I’ll be damned if I’m not going to go along with whatever game he wants to play.
Zero Charisma is one of my favorite films of the year. Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews have been able to capture a character that has never really been explored on film. The realism with their approach keeps this film from being a Napoleon Dynamite rip-off and I imagine that could have been the easy path to go. They opted to show Scott in his natural environment filled with heavy metal, dragons and twelve sided dice. Scott is an asshole, but by the end of the film he becomes the asshole we love.