Nerve takes place in modern day New York City. The film shares a title with the online gaming craze it is based around. Nerve is a game in which anonymous online “Watchers” dare “Player” personalities to do things, from eating dog food to hanging off a crane, in order to win cash. We are introduced to Nerve through the eyes of Vee (Emma Roberts, Scream Queens), a studious high school senior who is known for playing it safe. On a whim, Vee signs up to be a Nerve Player, which is where the story really begins. She and another Player named Ian (Dave Franco, Now You See Me 2) have a meet-cute which involves a Virginia Woolf book and a dare to kiss a stranger for five seconds. The rest of the film follows Vee and Ian as they continue to play Nerve, rack up Watchers and money, and put themselves in more and more danger.
The first five minutes of this film were atrocious. This exposition sequence was comprised of an extended POV shot of a computer screen (very Unfriended-esque, which should give you an idea of how bad it was) paired with intolerable, screechy indie pop. If I were rating Nerve on its first impression, this review would go in an entirely different direction. Luckily, I powered through the first bit and the rest of the film improved. There were no more shots like that (until the very end) and the music shifted to stuff like Halsey, which is a touch better than whatever unidentifiable crap the film started with.
Once I shook the feeling of irritation thrust upon me by Nerve’s beginning, I actually started to enjoy what was happening on the screen in front of me. The cinematography was totally focused around dozens and dozens of blue lights in Manhattan that do not exist, but it looked nice nonetheless. Watching these teens do stupid shit for money was dangerously entertaining, as the plot of the film suggests. Plus, two actresses from Orange Is the New Black (my two favorite, I might add) made appearances, one of whom got a genuine cheer from almost the entire audience.
Now, let’s talk about Emma Roberts. As an actress, she is mediocre and is always placed in mediocre roles -- usually as the high school aged Good Girl Gone Bad But Gone Good Again By The End Of The Film. This is about all she can do, and she does a decent job. But she is TWENTY-FIVE! A young-looking face might be a blessing, but please, Emma, try playing a character that is even close to your own age. You look great, but you cannot pass for seventeen anymore. Going into the film, I thought I would be “tricked” into thinking that Dave Franco (thirty-one!) was also in high school, but fortunately his age was left ambiguous. Plus, I don’t think anyone is that good looking when they’re still in high school, so that would’ve been a tough sell.
Getting past the first five minutes was certainly a challenge, but I’m glad I persevered. The other eighty-five minutes of Nerve were fast-paced, neon-lit fun. It was a teen movie through and through, heavy on the romance and makeout scenes and betrayal and cat fights and rebellion and parents who ~~just don’t get it~~. Since I am (just barely) not a teen, I am definitely not Nerve’s target demographic, but I found myself totally engaged and sort of enjoying myself. The film is the epitome of escapist entertainment, and that’s okay. It is by no means a cinematic masterpiece or meaningful in any way, but it was a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half.