Nerds on Film

We’re not talking your SF/Fantasy/Comic-Book/Anime stuff here. Those films get reviewed on a regular basis here at Bureau42. We’re talking about movies that put nerds, geeks, freaks, and the like—y’know, people like your friends—on camera.

Here are six prime views for consideration. Other suggestions?

Free Enterprise (1998): William Shatner appears as himself (parodied… Um, I hope) in this low-budget indie flick about a couple of arrested adolescents living the fanboy lifestyle and wondering if it isn’t getting a tad old. The nerdekultur references come fast and furious. Mundane types will be lost; my wife and I were falling off the couch.

The film has its flaws. An army of supporting characters wanders in and out of the story and, while life is like that, it’s confusing on film. Then again, if you’re reading this article there’s a good chance you will be able to substitute people you know for their representatives on-camera. The pacing varies wildly, and the running-time exceeds what the premise can sustain. But stay until the ending; the conclusion delivers, and the closing credits almost match The Holy Grail’s title sequence for inspired lunacy.

Trekkies (1997): does this documentary deliver a humorous, humoring look a fans, or a parade of freaks? Yes, it focuses on the extremes, and doesn’t do much more than let its subjects address the camera. Yes, the Spiner-femme comes across as slightly dangerous (her website, last updated in 2000, devotes expected bandwidth to condemning the film). Geeky but likeable Gabriel Koerner, then fourteen, has used his appearance as a springboard to other things. In the end, the film generates quite a few laughs, and a sequel is due for release.

Comic Book Villains (2002): Rival comic-book store owners battle to snatch a collector’s motherlode from the hands of an elderly woman. Affable nerd Archie (DJ Qualls) gets caught up in the action. This uneven film takes some very dark turns as it moves from being a comic-book twist on Clerks to a rather twisted comic thriller. Donal Logue’s performance as Raymond becomes genuinely disturbing.

Mystery Men (1999) Ok, I’m cheating here. This comic-book inspired film features actual superheroes. No question, though, the Mystery Men are a bunch of geeks. The obvious would have been to do an old-school Mel Brooks send-up of, say, the Batman franchise. This film, Tick-like, bites deeper than that, by showing how ridiculous a world based on the conventions of superhero comics would be. Its heroes are the ultimate second-bananas: Mr Furious (Ben Stiller), the Shoveller (Willam H. Macy), Blue Raja (Hank Azaria: effete, fork-tossing, and afflicted with the Justice Society’s fashion sense), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), the Spleen (good to see Paul Reubens getting work), and the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo at her acerbic best).

Revenge of the Nerds (1984): inspired by both the John Hughes teen angst flicks and the Animal Housesque rowdy comedies, this film is not so much based on real people as film stereotypes. Real nerds and jocks aren’t much like this– and let’s not even get into the “depiction of women” question. Still, as Siskel and Ebert said, it lives up to its title.

If you must study the cinematic geeks of this bygone era, consider Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.

Ghost World (2000): Possibly the best film based on a comic book; certainly the best of this lot. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) draw us into the lives of two pop-culture obsessed girl geeks. Terry Zwigoff’s film differs from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, but both deliver.

4 replies on “Nerds on Film”

  1. Galaxy Quest

    The film’s look at the Sci-Fi fan/actor relationship is truly funny. Ultimately, it’s the geek obsession with the series that saves the day.

    The mom’s line, “Well, at least he’s outside.” kills me every time. I could hear my mom saying that, easily.

  2. As William H. Macy said…
    “I tell all my friends the premise: Loser Superheroes. They all love it!”

    so… anyone seen the trailer for The Invincibles yet? (Pixar)

  3. Trekkies — Spiner Femmes
    After reading the Spiner Femme’s website and her rant that she wasn’t a psychotic stalker, I couldn’t help but think that would be exactly what a psychotic stalker would say/claim. They’d probably believe it, too.

  4. Other Movies:
    Real Genius
    Val Kilmer as a former child genius engineering student takes another child genius under his wing. Parts of this movie are based on things that actually happened at a tech school (not sure which one). One of the best, most realistic, portrayals I’ve ever seen of the geek mentality and lifestyle. Makes geeks look fun rather than boring.

    Little independent film about a neurotic genius trying to find mathematical patterns in the stock market. Uses a lot of real math and gives a glimpse into the type of scientific mindset obsessed with knowledge over all else. Highly recommended.

    Enemy of the State
    The best of the conspiracy movies, gives a good behind-the-scenes look at the kind of technology that the government has access to and the geeks who use it. All the geekiest actors in Hollywood are in it: Seth Green, Jack Black, Jamie Kennedy.

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