Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Zero Charisma - Movie Review

In the strange and wonderful world we live in it's possible to buy gently used and some new movies more cheaply than it is to rent them. One has to take the time and dig through the racks and bins, but they are there and some of them rise above the typical explosions, special effects, and boob shots that tend to pass for entertainment.

Case in point: I found a gem of a movie called Zero Charisma. It is a collaborative effort by Tribeca Film and Nerdist Industries. When I say gem I don't mean a gem like you buy at a jewelry store for your wife's birthday. It's more like a gem you find at a yard sale. It's overlooked and many won't value it. But it's still a gem. The movie cost two dollars at the local video rental place. According to the box, Zero Charisma was put out in 2013. There's some sharp cussing in the movie so if you don't like that don't watch it.

Zero Charisma is about a guy named Scott, as played by Sam Eidson. Something we tend to forget is that characters in movies have names aside from the actors playing them, but that's beside the point. Scott has issues. He lives with his grandmother. She has health problems and they get on one another's nerves. His mom abandoned Scott when he was very young. He works at a bakery. He's angry, and he's a Game Master for a fantasy role-playing game of his own design. This is what made me interested in the movie. Anybody who has ever played a fantasy role-playing game will find relatable moments (both funny and unfunny).

Scott starts out in what I'll call 'normal land'. Things are ok. To most viewers, things aren't where we'd like them to be. But that's not important. To Scott, life is about where it should be. However, slowly, Scott loses control of his game (don't miss the metaphor). It starts when he loses a player and he begins efforts to recruit a new one. The new guy, stumbled upon almost accidently, is obviously way cooler and funnier than anyone else in the group. This unhinges Scott's need for control in the one area of his life where he feels like he has it (the game he's created). And don't we all have a need for control in at least one area of our lives? Critical question that. The new guy (Miles) ascends in likeability and this challenges Scott's rule and position as game-master with his group of friends. While this is going on, Scott's mom returns to challenge his place at his grandmother's house. From the start, it's mostly downhill for Scott. No spoilers. Watch the movie.

That said, don't miss what's happening from a story-telling standpoint; one thing after another pushes Scott further and further from his comfortable normal. For this particular movie, many, though not all, of the problems are Scott's fault. This is important too. Because, while the viewer may not like Scott, over time (the way the plot points are revealed) the viewer can also understand why Scott is the way he is and this helps the viewer care.

Two huge ideas for writers:

HUGE IDEA FOR WRITERS #1: Premise isn't story, nor is it plot. This is about an angry game-master who likes to have a control of his game because it's about the only place in his life where he has any control. This is about what happens when that control begins to erode.

HUGE IDEA FOR WRITERS #2: Take the main character and knock him (or her) down, down, and then down some more. Beat the crap out of that main character. This provides the primary tension of the story. Will Scott get back to normal? Will he find a new normal? Will he learn anything? And in the meantime, if told well, readers & viewers can obtain a handle on why the main character is the way he is. A little bit of empathy goes a long way and love covers a multitude of sins. What I mean is that when an audience understands a miserable and not very likeable character, they are willing to care and cut the guy some slack and, heck, may even begin rooting for the guy.

This is what is known as a character-driven story which, for me, is much more entertaining and gratifying than an explosion & boob-driven story.

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