Sunday, October 13, 2013

Zero Charisma... Forgetting the Girl...

Sam Eidson and Garrett Graham: Zero Charisma 
Zero Charisma is a comedy of manners set in the world of aging nerds and the games they play.  Scott (Sam Eidson) is 30, living with his grandmother, and still absorbed in his weekly role as "game master," where he voices the roles of various dwarfs and warriors. His friends think he takes "role playing" too seriously, but the game has gone on uninterrupted for three years. When one of the regulars quits, Scott  panics in his search to find a new player. After a funny auditioning process, Scott thinks he's hit gold with a  nerd named Miles (Garrett Graham). To Scott's surprise, Miles turns out to be the sort of super nerd who runs a popular website, and has a deal with a comic book publisher.  Zero Charisma shows us the nerd hierarchy, with some nerds actually turning their  pursuits into moneymaking schemes. Miles is one of these successful nerds. He even has a girlfriend and a nice place to live. Scott, of course, can't hide his jealousy.
The rest of Scott's circle is made up of more traditional, socially awkward nerds.  And as they are paraded past us in this 86-minute film, they are incredibly hard to like. They're a prickly, vindictive,  lot.  All they have is each other, but they're weary of each other. To paraphrase the one time king of nerds, Woody Allen, (who was quoting Groucho Marx, a non-nerd) they seem to hate belonging to a club that would have them as members.  

My guess is that after suffering the barbs of others for so many years, these nerds instinctively do to each other what has been done to them. Cruelty is all they know. It's their currency.  In a way, they're like abused children who have grown up to be abusive. There's also a sexually undeveloped vibe among these guys, highlighted by  a bizarre scene where Scott forces himself on his friend Wayne (Brock England) in order to squeeze a zit. It ends with them breathing heavily, and Scott inviting Wayne to spend the night. Funny? No, just weird.
Scott is a peculiar character. He's full of rage - the walls of his room are filled with holes from his tantrums - but he also cries a lot and doesn't understand why people are always shitting on him.  Part of the reason is that he's a blowhard. In one funny scene, he claims to have actually written The Matrix, but wasn't given credit for his story.  His buddies humor him, but they're tiring of him. Among the nerd clique, he's a self-righteous bully; Miles is way more fun.
If the disintegration of his nerd circle isn't bad enough, Scott's grandmother falls ill and Scott's estranged mother (Cyndi Williams) moves in to help get the house in order (she hopes to sell it so she can get herself out of debt.). His mother is the sort of unfeeling shrew who likes to embarrass Scott in front of his friends. He has no love for her and their scenes together are uncomfortable. But he's rather unlovable himself, and that's where the movie flounders.
Eidson is a good actor and makes the character watchable. He's like a self-loathing bull in a china shop. Still,  he can't make Scott likable. Scott is lazy, arrogant, and insecure. His jealousy of Miles drives him to disrupt a party at Miles' house, but he suffers the ultimate nerd indignity: he's beaten up by another nerd. Even though he exposes Miles for the snob that he is, it's a Pyrrhic victory.  Miles will remain successful; Scott will remain a goofball. Scott remains friends with Wayne, though, and later admits he doesn't want Wayne to have a girlfriend because, "I want you to be a bigger loser than I am." Such self-awareness is promising. But will Scott ever mature?

The film ends with Scott  having supposedly learned a lesson, but in the final scene we learn he's still the same old Scott. Writer/Directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews offer up a depressing idea: Scott is not going to grow very much. When Scott's grandmother scolds him and says "When my husband was your age, he had a family,  a job, and his own home," we get the impression that Scott couldn't care less. Somewhere in his nerd brain, spending the day on the couch eating cereal is the better way to go.

Nate Taylor's Forgetting The Girl tries so hard to keep us guessing that it ultimately means very little.
It reminded me of a lot of movies I've seen recently from first time directors: it's competently made, somewhat stylish, clocks in at a tidy 90 minutes, but is made on the gamble that its gimmick ending will justify its existence.  I'm not sure why so many of these new films feel the same to me, unless I'm reacting to some kind of millennial trait, where new directors seem afraid of swinging for a home run, and are content to show a dash of cleverness. Watching Forgetting The Girl is akin to listening to some dreary singer-songwriter in a coffee shop, mumbling some tune he just wrote in the dorm.
Kevin Wolfe (Christopher Denham) is a portrait photographer in New York. He scrapes out a living by taking photos of aspiring actresses who need headshots for their resumes.  He makes a habit of asking his models out on dates, and is almost always turned down. When he does get close to a woman, he inevitably turns her off by declaring his love on the first date. He does this over and over again, but never figures out why it doesn't work.
Mysteriously, one of the girls  ends up missing. That, in itself, could be a plot worth pursuing. But Taylor and screenwriter Peter Moore Smith add on some other stuff - Kevin is haunted by the drowning death of his sister; he has a creepy landlord who lurks around in the dark and looks at grotesque porn on the Internet; the missing girl's sister turns up at Kevin's door wondering what he knows; Kevin's assistant (Lindsay Beamish) also appears to be stalking him and secretly loves him.  There's also a killing with a hammer, a staged suicide, and a climactic confession that may or may not leave you thinking, "Big friggin' deal." That's how I felt, anyway.
Any of the film's individual threads might have been interesting to develop. By having them all intertwine, Taylor turns the movie into a game of three-card-monte with no payoff. Beamish, though,  is very good as the photographer's lovelorn assistant. I'd like to see her in more films. She gives a solid, lively performance in a movie that otherwise mopes around to its finish.

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