Here’s a surprise—I really like Nerve! The trailer made this movie look dumb as sh*t, and it IS dumb, but it’s also really fun and actually pretty thrilling. Based on a novel by Jeanne Ryan (adapted by Jessica Sharzer, Speak), and directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (of Catfish fame), Nerve is a fast, fairly slick techno-thriller with a pair of genuinely charming leads in Emma Roberts and Dave Franco. They have GREAT chemistry—the combined wattage of their smiles could power a small city—and even when Nerve stumbles, they keep it going on charm alone. I’m not going to sell you on this being a good movie, but it is very watchable. I dare you to go see Nerve and not get caught up in it.
As a person who was never sold on The Hunger Games, Nerve feels like someone said, “You know what would be cool is if we redid The Hunger Games but instead of standing around talking to the sky and eating berries at the end, the characters actually had to fight their way out of the arena.” And that is Nerve—The Hunger Games minus the berries and plus computers. Vee (Roberts) is a high school senior who is nerdy because everyone says she’s nerdy. Her friend Sydney (Emily Meade, Money Monster) embarrasses her in front of her crush, and calls out Vee for never taking risks—never mind that Vee’s risk-taking older brother died of fatal risk-taking—so Vee goes home and signs up for Nerve, an online game.
Nerve, The Game is like Pokemon GO crossed with that game from the David Fincher film The Game. There are “Players” and “Watchers”, and Watchers dare Players to do things for money. At first it’s easy—kiss a stranger, sing a song, go to the city. But as the rewards go up the dares get riskier, like “ride a motorcycle blindfolded through traffic”. Watchers decide that Vee and her mysterious fellow Player, Ian (Franco), are suitably attractive and make them team up for a series of dares across New York City.
Here’s the thing—the dares are GOOD. The mostly hand-held camerawork puts you right in the action, and the camera tends to crowd Vee and Ian so that we’re watching from their perspective. The integration of faux-cell phone video brings us even closer, and the result is that it often feels like we’re in the dare, too. (Motion sickness warning if you’re susceptible to that sort of thing.) Nerve is not an especially pretty film, between the rough camerawork, digital elements, and neon lighting, but it is good at making us feel like we’re there.
Where it falls down a bit is in the end, which goes over the top and loses a little of the earlier immediacy. Nerve turns out to be the work of malicious hackers, and while the movie makes a good decision to keep the hacking scenes to a minimum and not force us to watch people type on keyboards as if that is ever exciting, it makes a bad decision to stage the final dare as a kind of gladiator battle. The same scene with no live audience—to truly emphasize the anonymous and fleeting nature of online interaction—would have been so much more, well, unnerving. But still, Roberts and Franco power through it, and they keep the movie on its feet through sheer willpower.
Nerve isn’t especially good—it’s not even really a good B movie—it’s just fast paced enough and fun enough to keep going on its own momentum. A few weeks ago it probably would have seemed totally ludicrous, but after the phenomenon of Pokemon GO it’s easy to see the world getting caught up in an exciting new online game. When the movie starts proselytizing on the dangers of online life toward the end, it gets a bit rocky, but as long as it’s Vee and Ian tearing around New York committing second class felonies on a dare, it’s really engaging. This is ostensibly a teen movie, but it should appeal to the Fast/Furious crowd, too. I’m surprised to say it, but I really recommend Nerve.
Attached – Emma Roberts at the gym yesterday and Dave Franco out in London today.