Movie review in the Friday, Oct. 25 Oregonian....
Scott Weidemeyer (Sam Eidson) is seething.
When he was 10, Scott's mother (Cyndi Williams) dumped him with his grandmother and skipped town. Nearly two decades later, Scott is an ungainly, empathy-challenged man-child caught in a state of furious arrest.
He still lives rent-free with his grandmother (Anne Gee Byrd). He makes scant cash delivering doughnuts. And he's funneled every ounce of his remaining self-worth into the one aspect of his life he controls: designing and running a years-long campaign for a D&D-style role-playing game of his own design. Scott has narrowed his world to the game, the shrinking group of friends playing it in his living room, the symphonic- and thrash-metal in his earphones, and the fantasy figurines he paints in his bedroom.
Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews' "Zero Charisma" is a mostly sharp, semi-dark comedy of awkwardness about what happens when Scott's teeny-tiny world is disrupted -- by his grandmother's stroke, by his mother's reappearance, and especially by the introduction to the gaming group of Miles (Garrett Graham), a hip geek-culture blogger who threatens to steal Scott's three remaining friends.
"Charisma" -- crowdfunded in part through IndieGoGo -- will likely earn a deserved cult audience because it gets two things exactly right:
(1) Co-directors Graham and Matthews (who previously worked on "Best Worst Movie") approach tabletop RPG culture with a near-"Freaks And Geeks" level of respect. Shooting in Austin in actual gaming-community locations, the filmmakers mostly refuse to resort to easy jabs at "nerds." Instead, they use the game, the players, and the surrounding RPG community to create a comedy-of-manners framework -- and mirror Scott's emotional trauma in the gameplay itself. On the surface, yes, Scott fits the furtive-gamer clichés, but to its credit "Zero Charisma" looks at the human problems underneath the façade. This is a comedy driven by characters, not mockery.
(2) The actors are all consistently strong for a microbudgeted indie, but Sam Eidson in particular is terrific as Scott. The actor (a staple of the Austin film scene) uses his intimidating stature and gift for playing volcanic rage to lend a threat of violence to his character. It's a bold choice: Eidson refuses to worry about making Scott "likeable" even as Scott risks losing control of the game that's become his sole coping mechanism for his abandonment issues.
I have a couple of minor beefs with "Zero Charisma." Eidson's performance promises to take the movie into more complex psychological territory than the filmmakers may care to explore toward the end. And charming interloper Miles plays a little too easily into a cultural debate about "real" versus "fake" geeks that strikes me as futile in the same way trying to define the word "hipster" is futile. But overall the movie offers a funny, human take on a wounded person and the gaming subculture that consumes him.
(88 min., unrated; opens Friday, Oct. 25 at the Hollywood Theatre; available now on VOD services including iTunes) Grade: B
'Zero Charisma' (The Oregonian, Friday, Oct. 25, 2013)