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

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by John Anderson
October 11, 2013 1:40 AM
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"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.

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