Here's another impressive one from this year's Maryland Film Festival.
Before there was nerd chic, there were just plain old nerds, and they were notorious for engaging in elaborate role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons in their parents’ basements. In recent years, the Dungeons and Dragons crowd has been overtaken by the computer gaming industry, but in this funny and dark and a little sad (but mostly funny!) film, we meet the 20-something Scott, who still plays his own “RPG” with his adult buddies in his grandma’s den. But, of course, they’re not really adults at all—instead, arrested adolescents who retreat to this imaginary world because the real one hasn’t treated them too kindly. Scott is the group’s leader. He’s the one who has created the game, and also the one who makes the rules, does the voices of the various kings and damsels and dwarves—creating his own little captive theater in the round. Scott’s happiness and self-esteem is completely wrapped up in this isolated fifedom, where he isn’t an underemployed, virginal loser, but a gamemaster—a geek god.
All of this changes when two monumental events occur in Scott’s life. He recruits a new member to the RPG—Miles (Garrett Graham), who genuinely enjoys playing but is definitely more of the hipster nerd variety. Miles scandalously brings beer to his first game (Scott and his buddies drink sugary sodas) and is the editor of a popular pop culture blog. Because Miles is affable and kind of cool and doesn’t instantly bow to Scott’s authority, he poses a real threat.
Also, Scott’s wayward hippie mom (Cyndi Williams) is back in town to (allegedly) help care for his no-BS granny, who just suffered a mild stroke. Her presence brings up all sorts of abandonment issues for the repressed Scott. Unfortunately, the segments featuring Scott’s mom are a bit underdeveloped and not nearly as engaging as all the gamer stuff.
I really have to give enormous credit to Sam Eidson, the actor who plays Scott. He’s a massive hulk of a man, with a fuzzy Renaissance-style beard and a protruding gut. He’s the kind of guy you give a wide berth to at a rock show, not just because he’s so big, but because his anger seems a little too volatile. Eidson keeps that balance where we’re both rooting for Scott, but a little afraid of him, too. (Credit also to writer/directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews for their funny, compassionate work).
Scott’s self-revelation at the end of the film (I won’t give it away here) feels believable and earned—and gives us hope that he just might emerge from that basement, after all.