Directed by: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman.
Written by: Jessica Sharzer based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan.
Starring: Emma Roberts (Vee), Dave Franco (Ian), Emily Meade (Sydney), Miles Heizer (Tommy), Kimiko Glenn (Liv), Marc John Jefferies (Wes), Machine Gun Kelly (Ty), Brian 'Sene' Marc (J.P.), Samira Wiley (Hacker Kween), Juliette Lewis (Nancy).
There is a darker version of Nerve to be made, by some brave filmmaker and studio, that would have the potential to be great – or at least dangerous and disturbing. Nerve isn’t that film – it doesn’t take long to figure out its based on a Young Adult novel because it feels very much like one. In this case, what that means is that it takes an interesting premise, but doesn’t push it to its darkest level – it skitters along on the surface, teasing you that its going to go to some nasty places that it never really gets to, before wrapping things up in a nice, neat little package with an ending that is, quite frankly, awful – and lets everyone off the hook far too easily. Yet, I have to admit – I liked Nerve a lot more than I probably should have – that ending is awful, but even while I was aware of how much better the film could be as I watched it, the cast is so likable and winning, and the film so entertaining that you can forget what the film isn’t doing, and concentrate on what it’s doing well. Yes, it has the easy, black and white morality of a YA novel – but it does have some interesting things to say.
The film is about an online game called Nerve – users can either sign up to be a Watcher – and pay a fee – or a player, who will actually get money if the complete the dares the users give them. You fail or bail, you lose. You try and tell the cops, well, Snitches Get Stitches, the game informs the users. How all this works doesn’t really make a lot of sense – and frankly, I don’t care (the last thing the film needs is a 20 minute seminar on how it would work) – because the film uses its premise to simply take what is already happening online now and take it up a notch – basically, young people doing incredibly stupid stuff and posting videos online of them doing it. In fact, the fact that the teenagers are doing all the stupid stuff they do in Nerve actually more sense than it does in real life – at least in the movie, they’re getting paid.
The movie focuses on high school senior Vee (Emma Roberts – seriously, is Roberts STILL playing high school girls – it feels like I’ve been watching her do that for a decade now), who is Hollywood’s version of a nerd girl – that is she takes pictures and reads Virginia Woolf, and only her nerd friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) realizes she’s a knockout. She’s embarrassed one day at school – especially after her best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade) calls her “repressed” – and heads home and logs onto Nerve – the game Sydney has been playing, and said Vee wouldn’t have the guts to do. Of course, Vee starts playing – and the dares keep going up. On her first dare, she meets Ian (Dave Franco) – another player, and since the Watchers like them together (and you cannot have a YA story without a meet cute and love story taking over, no matter what the rest of the story is about) and start playing together. It starts out innocently enough – “Kiss a Stranger for 5 seconds” – and then eventually gets to the level of life threatening stunts.
To be honest, most of the stunts the Watchers give the Players are fairly innocent - seriously, this is the internet full of horrible people, and yet nothing sexual beyond the kiss comes up? I have a hard time believing that more people who vote for some of the death defying stunts rather than that, but I get the movie doesn’t want to push things into the truly uncomfortable zones for its target audience. It wants to keep everything a little cleaner than that. It’s not hard to imagine though just how messed up this game could become in real life – which is kind of the movie I would have rather seen.
Nerve doesn’t go that dark – but on a surface level, the film works. Roberts and Franco are both quite charming in the film, and have an easy screen chemistry together. Having said that, I think the relationships between Vee and Sydney is more complex, and liked how the movie at least attempted to explore that. I would have rather nerd boy Tommy to function a little bit more as a character and a little bit less as a plot device however.
Nerve is fun. Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – who made Catfish, and therefore know a little something about the dangers of the internet, the film has a glossly sheen to it (as did Catfish actually), but for the at least an hour, the film works. Yes, it flies off the rails in the end – wanting to give everyone a happy ending, and letting everyone get away consequence free – which I think does kind of go against the rest of the film. Maybe just leave at that point, and imagine your own, darker, better ending.