I saw a poster for this movie at the local indie movie house while out on a group motorcycle ride and lo! it was available on iTunes for rent. $3.99 and an hour and a half later, I had watched Zero Charisma — a little movie out of Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist duchy (it’s not quite an empire, yet.)

Zero Charisma centers around a small gaming group lead/ruled over by gamemaster Scott Weidermeyer, who is pretty much everything I counsel against on this blog. He’s an awful person in many respects — selfish, angry to the point of near constant abuse of everyone around him, insecure, and in his real life, a loser. (He works at a Chinese-owned eatery called, wonderfully, the Donut Taco Palace III.) Scott is leading his four friends…well, more like vassals, through three years of a quest that will eventually center on a showdown he’s been crafting in his mind. Problem: one of the gamers gets a phone call during their game (a major faux pas) and has a major row with his wife who is looking to leave him. He tells the group he can’t play anymore…ever.

It’s a huge blow to Scott, for whom the game is pretty much the only safe spot he has in life. His mother shows up later, having abandoned him and his grandmother to “grow marijuana in Mexico” and who is a worse person than her son. The grandmother is pretty abusive, but more in that disappointed-as-hell-in-you manner; she obviously loves him, but wants him to sort his shit.

The recruitment drive is on for a new player but most of the gamers, unfortunately for the group, know Scott. Finally, he stumbles onto a new prospect at the local game store he’d been fired from (and sales went up 200% — you know this guy, trust me, if you’ve been gaming awhile): Miles, a hipster-type who used to play D&D and thought it might be fun to find a game. Miles is everything Scott isn’t — personable, funny, talented, and successful — with a website on comics, movies, and gaming that had “millions” of viewers (versus Scott’s 14 visitors a week to his gaming blog.) He even shows up with a six pack for everyone the first night, which sets off alarm bells for Scott.

Almost immediately it’s a battle of wills between the two for who is going to control the game group, with outright conflict breaking out when Scott fudged a die roll to thwart Miles during a game, only to be outted by Miles hot-as-hell girlfriend. (“You don’t even know how to play!” “I know cheating when I see it.”)

Zero Charisma seems to be marketed as a comedy, but it’s not very funny — Scott is a tragic character in many ways, but is so unlikeable that he’s hard to identify with. His nemesis, Miles, is likeable but is hipster douchey, especially in a key scene at the denouement, so he’s a bit hard to side with. However, watching the movie I knew all these guys after 30 years of gaming. It was funny because so much of the stereotyping was true — but it’s stereotypes that were much more common in gaming 20 years ago. Had this been made in 1990, it would have been spot-on for much of the gaming community, but now it represents a small, and aging population.

The movie is stripped down and does a lot with a little. The writing is good, but there is a lack of respect for what gaming means to a lot of folks — something Role Models hit on much better. The acting is very good, with relative unknowns doing sterling service.

Overall, I’d put it in the “rent it or see it at a matinee” level of movie, if you’re a gamer. If not, I’d say pass on this one.

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