Zero Charisma is an awkward but honest love letter to nerds

Upon seeing the latest trailer for Zero Charisma, I worried that it was laughing at nerds, not with them. I am happy to report this is not the case. Zero Charisma is a film about nerds for nerds (and presumably by nerds), to the point where I’m not sure how much “normal” audiences would get out of the film. But despite its authenticity, it has another problem.

Zero Charisma explores the sea change between the worst of “classic” nerds and the new, modern “cool” nerd — classic in this case not being the pocket-protector-carrying, overly intelligent, taped-glasses nerds of early ‘80s movies, but a true nerd — a man obsessed with the role-playing game he leads, both the imaginary tale he’s telling and the group playing it under his control. Anyone who’s been more than intermediately into role-playing game should recognize the main character Scott immediately — someone for whom the game is not a game, but Serious Business. As his escape from the failure of his actual life — he lives with with grandmother and works as a fast-food deliveryman — the game is the only place he has any power, and he uses and abuses it accordingly.

Scott’s world — both literally and figuratively — is challenged when he invites newcomer Miles in to his group, a “new nerd” who isn’t socially awkward, who has a good job (he has a popular nerd blog), a hot girlfriend, is handsome, and he still knows whether the Millennium Falcon is faster than the Enterprise and actually has the math to back it up. The rest of Scott’s gamers are obviously drawn to Miles’ charisma (and his crazy belief that the game should be "fun") and Scott, seeing his tiny kingdom slipping away by someone whose nerdiness hasn’t held them back but helped him succeed, freaks the fuck out. It leads to an inevitable confrontation Scott can't win and Miles can't lose.

It’s a great concept, but one Zero Charisma doesn’t fully exploit. Instead of really exploring the differences and the similarities between Scott and Miles, the movie is content to just continually heap shit on Scott’s life with almost sadistic pleasure. Some are Scott’s fault — his assertion that The Matrix was based on a short story he wrote is particularly excruciating, and which Miles happily tears apart — but life is happy to join in, as his grandmother has a stoke, his negligent mother returns and effectively sells the house. How much of Scott’s inability to cope or interact with people is due to his mother abandoning him to his grandmother as a child is the most interesting question the movie raises.

But that’s about it, unfortunately. Zero Charisma is still worth watching, though, for Sam Eidson, who plays Scott so masterfully you’ll be hard-pressed to imagine Eidson doesn’t also live with his grandmother, hunched over dungeon maps. Eidson somehow makes Scott watchable while still being almost completely without merit. Scott may have zero charisma points, but Sam Eidson does, and his performance is easily the best thing in the film.

Zero Charisma is by no means bad, it’s just doesn’t have much to say. And that’s a shame, because there was a lot of potential here. It has Charisma, it just failed a Wisdom check.