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Review: 'Zero Charisma' Stars Uber-Geek from Austin, Texas

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood October 11, 2013 at 1:40AM

“Zero Charisma” just about describes it, but both Tribeca Film and Nerdist Industries have decided that the directorial debut of Austin-based filmmakers Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews is charming enough to throw a little weight behind. The festival-offshoot distributor, and the geek-centric content provider (part of Legendary Pictures, whose summer output has included “Hangover III,” “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim”) will co-release the film beginning Oct. 8, on cable/telco and satellite video-on-demand platforms, as well as iTunes, Amazon Watch Instantly, VUDU, Playstation, and Google Play, followed by a theatrical release on Oct. 11.
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"Zero Charisma."
"Zero Charisma."

“Zero Charisma” just about describes it. “Zero Charisma” is a micro-budgeted tragicomedy about losers, with a leading man so lacking in physical grace or personal insight that he’ll make any audience – especially the charm-challenged demographic that the film seems to target – feel like George Clooney crossed with the World’s Most Interesting Man. Stay thirsty my friends: Is this enough for a movie? 

Both Tribeca Film and Nerdist Industries decided that the directorial debut of Austin-based filmmakers Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews was charming enough to throw a little weight behind. The festival-offshoot distributor, and the geek-centric content provider (part of Legendary Pictures, whose summer output included “Hangover III,” “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim”) are co-releasing the film (which debuted this spring at SXSW) beginning Oct. 8, on cable/telco and satellite video-on-demand platforms, as well as iTunes, Amazon Watch Instantly, VUDU, Playstation, and Google Play, followed by a theatrical release on Oct. 11. The film played both Comic-Con and Fantasia Fest in Montreal. 

Graham and Matthews found their all-but-unknown leading man, Sam Eidson, in last year’s “Man from Orlando,” but only after scouring the Austin streets and transit system for someone to fit their uber-geek vision. “We couldn’t afford to go outside Austin,” Matthews said at a Montreal Q & A, “so we had to cast locally. But when we saw Sam we knew ...” 

“…he was the one,” Graham said.

The plot: The barely employed Scott (Eidson) -- overweight, badly groomed, and living with his hilariously cranky grandmother (Annie Gee Byrd) -- leads a weekly gathering of like-minded social misfits in a fantasy role-playing game of his own devising. When an opening occurs, Scott finds a new player in Miles (Garret Graham), a poseur-nerd with ulterior motives, a surfeit of charm, and who deposes Scott as the group’s alpha male – so to speak. Psychosis ensues.

At the their Q&A in Montreal, Graham and Matthews seemed much more like Miles than Scott, and far more interested in creating an irredeemably pathetic protagonist who will bring out the worst in an audience. Geekdom is valuable narrative fodder. But even a disrespected hero has to respect himself. No such luck in “Zero Charisma,” although it’s apparently touching a chord among some.

“When I saw it,” said Nerdist founder and chief creative officer Chris Hardwick in a prepared release, “I knew I had to tell as many people as I could about it. It's hilarious, touching, beautiful, authentic and an eerily accurate echo of my first D&D group in the 80’s. I think the character of Scott will become a cultural hero. He is the personification of the nerd rage that boils in all of us when PEOPLE. DON'T. FOLLOW. THE. RULES. OF. THE GAME.”

That may be true. And yet, somehow, still not enough.

This article is related to: Festivals, Reviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.