“The only way out is to win.”
One glance at Nerve’s poster, flush with two flawless faces drenched in color, could serve as evidence to surmise that this is a surface level movie. And it sort of is, like a gateway into the overnight celebrity culture we now live in, but surprisingly enough, the film uses an abrupt shift in tone that takes responsibility for all of the exaggerated action that comes before it. This breezy movie consistently builds tension and stakes until a whipsmart message slashes across the screen, outlining the strict dichotomy of right versus wrong for individuals who have to say “mea culpa” more times than not. Nerve is my surprise movie of the summer thus far.
Vee (Emma Roberts) plays the shy one of her social circle. She shoots for the school yearbook, hesitates to talk to her crush, considers declining her acceptance to Cal Arts in favor of her mother’s (Juliette Lewis) preferred local Staten Island college. You could say she’s a PG version of the manic pixie dream girl. Her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) is Vee’s polar opposite, outgoing and flirty, wearing a white shirt with no bra for reasons other than comfort. Sydney tells Vee about a secret game called Nerve. You pay to be a “Player” or a “Watcher,” which you can guess the role each girl assumes. Nerve is a sort of augmented reality game of highly specialized dares. Complete a challenge for money, then a harder dare for more money, so on and so forth until the last remaining competitor wins the game and the loot they’ve bankrolled. The plot certainly has some holes, but they all prove to be minor in comparison to the message the movie has in store.
Sydney’s advice drives Vee to fairly on the nose action; she thinks she can be a Player just as well. The decision introduces her to Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow Player who she ends up traveling with through New York City. Roberts and Franco don’t exactly have great screen chemistry, but the talented performers do handle the emotional fluctuations adeptly, asked to do quite a lot by directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. In the opening, Vee sits at her desk and we look at her as if her laptop screen is transparent. Logos and text backwards but legible, sometimes flipping to her perspective and seeing the trepidation of a click or the rush of her mouse cursor. In mere minutes we know who she is, and its through this willing transparency that Joost and Schulman lay the groundwork for a sermon on modern communication and identification dressed as a fun romantic adventure.
The directors do some great work with individual dares as well, ranging from the lighthearted to absolute acrophobia. One in particular – to reach 60mph on a bike…blindfolded – is a panic inducing thrill ride. Nerve’s dramatic points are certainly forced, the friendship squabbles predictable, the romance a little out of touch with reality. And guess what, so are many of the decisions made by the generation it is so honed in on. I know most people will think the climax is too far-fetched and ridiculous. Pay attention though and you’ll find very few gaps in story logic, as well as a reflection of a modern phenomenon. We coexist in real-time broadcasts and in the literal real-time, and have the instant ability to make snap judgements with the ease of a click or a comment. The film critiques the detachment that such immediacy has instilled in our young people, and campaigns for the rightful culpability of one’s actions. By no means is Nerve a movie meant for all age groups, yet for those in the know, it rouses reflection on the consequence of choice.
“Oh God I love the internet.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5