Sunday, December 8, 2013

Zero Charisma [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  ChicagoTribune/Variety (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune/Variety (P. Debruge) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

 Zero Charisma [2013] (screenplay and codirected by Andrew Matthews along with Katie Graham) that played some time ago at Facets Multimedia in Chicago and is available now on Amazon Instant Video, is the kind of film that immediately divides its audience in two: those who upon realizing that the film is about RPG "gamers" quickly understand the inside joke present in the title and those who don't.

After that, I suspect that the film will continue to be (amusingly to me ;-) divisive: There will be people in both camps (gamers and non) who will find the film mean-spirited and others from both camps who will not.  Among those who find the film mean-spirited, there will be folks from both camps who will like the film for its unsentimentality/(at times) meanness and others will find the film's (at times) meanness unnerving.  Finally, there will be those who will find under all the film's (at times) meanness affirmation nonetheless.

What is clear is that this film was made by people "in the know," who've lived in the role-playing-gamers' "world"/subculture. [Note here that I would count myself as someone somewhat "in the know" as well, as I have been an RPG gamer since high school/college and play, as time allows, in a weekly game organized by a high school friend _to this day_.  And honestly, I enjoy / look forward to those games ;-)].  And while the film makers laugh _at times_ at said subculture, calling-out its occasional (at times, again...) meanness, I do believe that the film-makers refuse to condemn it completely.  For even "Mr Zero Charisma" himself -- overweight, one gets the sense that he probably doesn't shower much, self-appointed DND-style "game master" mid/late 20-something "man boy" still living at his grandma's Scott (played by Sam Eidson) -- is (quite amazingly, after that list of deficiencies...) NOT portrayed without redeeming qualities (among them that he does love above mentioned grandma (played magnificently in no nonsense fashion by Anne Gee Byrd) ;-).  Hence ... honestly ... what a character study / film! :-)  And this isn't a character study of a "Gandhi" but of a guy in his mid/late 20s having trouble holding onto a "sub-sandwich delivery" job. 

So yes, this is a film about Scott ... not exactly mild-mannered, more like troubled, with anger-management issues "air-guitar rocker" having trouble holding onto said "sub-sandwich delivery" job who LIVES for being "game master" once a week at his (er his grandmother's) house for a group of quieter nerds/friends who he keeps in tow not exactly by being nice to them but often, frankly, psychologically bullying them instead. 

When one member of his little group (and let's be honest here, THEY LIVE IN GOOD PART TO PLAY THIS WEEKLY GAME AT SCOTT'S GRANDMA'S HOUSE AS WELL) tells the group that he'd like to take a temporary leave of absence from the group because he has a girlfriend now, he (1) gets abuse from Scott, rolling his eyes as if to say (or perhaps he even said it): "Oh, how long will THAT last?" and (2) puts the rest of the group in crisis.  What now?  They're gonna need a replacement.

The replacement comes in the form of a way-cooler gamer/newcomer to town named Miles (played by Garrett Graham) who Scott meets delivering sandwiches to his old place of employment, a hobby shop named "The Wizards' Tower" (a job that Scott had clearly _loved_ but _lost_ for being simultaneously over-bearing and unreliable ... sigh, there are SO MANY TIMES you feel sorry for the guy, even as one sees "the other guy's," in this case Scott's former employer's, point...).  Miles, thin, with a light beard, stylish glasses, runs a similarly stylish (and highly successful) blog (with monthly hits in the millions) named "GeekChic" AND as the coup de grace, he has a girlfriend of every gamer's dreams.  Named Kendra (played again magnificently by Katie Folger), goodlooking, flirty/witty, kinda Goth, one gets the sense that she's played a few bards, druids and magic-users as well.

Well Scott, who brought Miles into his Game in good part out of desperation (he needed a replacement for his friend who left the Game for a girlfriend who thought "all this gaming" was "stupid") now faces a far bigger threat to his Game and indeed his Life than ever before -- a far, far cooler/more attractive version of himself ;-)

And then that's not all that's dropped onto his plate.  When grandma falls ill, ma who hasn't been in either his or his grandma's life for years, suddenly comes back with a(nother) boyfriend ... and she doesn't seem to care much about either her mother or her son who's been living (presumably for years) with her mother.  All she seems to see is her 'ma's house' ... and how much money she could get for it, if only she could sell it.

Much, much, much ... often very, very basic, very painfully existential ... ensues.  This is honestly a very interesting and often unnerving "little" film.

ADDENDUM: I would like to add that one of the things that I love about this film is there's a "welcome to my world" (as a Catholic priest) aspect to it.  Again, I don't deal with a lot of Gandhis or Steve Jobs in my line of work.  However, I deal with any combination of Scott, his mother and his grandmother on a more or less regular basis.  So it was a joy watching this film about a guy with very mundane but very real struggles in life.

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