Respond to these rapid questions in our Nerve quiz and we will tell you which Nerve character you are. Play it now.
“Nerve” is a lot like high school: the jocks and pretty people have all the fun, and the nerds, who were ceremoniously excluded, are the ones who bail them out when they get into trouble. Tommy (Miles Heizer), a computer geek who has a soft spot for the film’s leading lady Vee Delmonico, is the nerd in question (Emma Roberts). Vee is a blonde beauty who has recently been accepted into the California Institute of the Arts. She would never, ever end up in Tommy’s arms, whether in a filmic or real-life version of the afterlife. Tommy, on the other hand, comes to Vee’s aid when she becomes entangled in a sinister smartphone game whose online ringmaster has a suspiciously similar voice to that of Stephen Hawking.
According to a brief overview of the film’s history, it was originally conceived as a popular young adult novel by Jeanne Ryan. Despite the fact that I have not read the book, I have seen the episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer is willing to degrade himself in exchange for money. The rules of “Nerve” are very similar to those of “Nerve.” There are two game modes in this underground game: player and watcher. Observers issue “dares” to the participants. Following the completion of the dares, which are recorded by the player and other observers, cash is immediately deposited into the player’s bank account to cover the cost of the wager. The greater the danger of the dare, the greater the amount of money earned. Failure or withdrawal from the dare means the player’s game is over and they forfeit all of their winnings (including the cash). It is quite rudely demonstrated that if a player freaks out and calls the authorities, the street adage “snitches get stitches” is true.
However, while “Nerve” intends to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of attempting to gain fame through social media, it is unwilling to delve into the darker territory that the subject matter demands. It chooses to operate on a more superficial and extremely silly level, and while this has its own amusing aspects, it completely undermines the film’s overall message. The ramifications are merely afterthoughts in this situation. It appears that the ABC Afterschool Specials of my childhood, as cheesy as they were, are now far more dangerous. The hardened cynic in me hoped for something along the lines of Eli Roth making a horror film about “Pokemon Go,” but I was wrong. However, I am not the intended audience for the film “Nerve.” Even though a part of me begged for this film to leave my lawn alone, a much larger part of me relented and agreed to follow its guidelines. “Nerve” is far too much fun to be annoyed by for an extended period of time.
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When the film is portraying the dynamics of its teenaged universe, it is at its most powerful and effective. There’s plenty of room in this script for the actors to fully flesh out and inhabit their standard teen-movie trope characters, and you’ll easily recognize yourself in the characters, no matter what kind of teen you were in high school. The interplay between the main characters has a genuine, human feel to it. Taking Vee as an example, she begins to play “Nerve” in order to get away from the shadow cast by her more popular friend, Sydney (Emily Meade, very good here). To its credit, the film takes its time to explore the complexities of their complicated relationship. The desire to be popular is shared by Vee and Sydney with the majority of teenagers, and in today’s world, this often entails going viral in some form on the internet.
Sydney is one of the most talented players in the game “Nerve,” and she is on track to “win” the game by becoming its top player. Ty (Machine Gun Kelly), a ruthless competitor who will stop at nothing to win, and Ian (Dave Franco), a dreamboat whose meet cute with Vee involves her kissing him as her first Nerve dare, are in competition for the title. Apparently, the anonymous watchers in charge of the game think Ian and Vee make a good couple, so they send them on dares that include trying on expensive clothing in a ritzy Manhattan store and driving a motorcycle at 60 miles per hour down a Manhattan street while blindfolded, among other activities. Meanwhile, Ty pulls off a perilous stunt that brings to mind the R-rated Disney film “The Program” from 1993, as well as the tragic real-life copycat accident that forced Disney to cut the scene in question from that film.
Also, you will find out which character are you in this Nerve quiz.
Aside from the crazy stunts, the camera is smitten with Roberts and Franco, who have tremendous onscreen chemistry whether they are alone or together. The most amusing example is a scene in which the duo escapes into the temporary safe haven of a store elevator, despite the fact that they are only dressed in their underwear for reasons that are too complicated to explain. It’s impossible not to wonder, as the camera lingers on Franco’s sculpted abs in the film, “How many Big Macs did he forego in order to get that shit?” “Nerve,” on the other hand, treats them as more than just eye candy; their quickly developed relationship produces some genuine moments of affection. The fact that Ian might consider giving up the game to the young lady he’s suddenly smitten with is understandable when things start to get shady. After all, it’s not like the stakes are that high.
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Vee is a potential hero, and Tommy is there to help her when things get a little dicey. His abstinence from Nerve is motivated by his awareness that the game harvests every iota of information about players from the internet and uses it for nefarious purposes. “I’m not going to play Nerve,” he says (kinda like Facebook does, but I digress). “Snakes on a Plane” is another example of how the filmmakers show their appreciation for computer geeks like myself by having Tommy use his technical prowess in a heroic manner. In his corner is a top hacker, who is refreshingly played by a woman of color, Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black), who brings a different perspective to the role.
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A note at the end of “Nerve” can be read as either a huge relief or an outright cop-out, depending on your point of view. Obviously, I went with the latter option, but to be honest, the ridiculous conclusion is “Nerve’s” one true moment of pure audacity. With some strong performances (including Juliette Lewis as Vee’s mother) and a glossy sheen provided by cinematographer Michael Simmonds, you have a pleasant and enjoyable little summertime diversion on your hands.