Directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman || Produced by Allison Shearmur || Screenplay by Jessica Sharzer || Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis || Music by Rob Simonsen || Cinematography by Michael Simmonds || Edited by Madeleine Gavin || Production company: Allison Shearmur Productions, Keep Your Head Productions || Distributed by Lionsgate || Running time: 96 mins. || Release Date: July 27th, 2016 || Reviewed at AMC Boston Common, July 25th
It's safe to say that 'Nerve' has cemented its place on every other teen's summer calendar. The film's flashy trailer, which has been relentlessly shared to death across my Facebook news feed, boasts some run-of-the-mill laughs and thrills, yet holds promise in its intriguing concept that seems to mirror the craze surrounding much of society's recent viral fixations.
'Nerve' follows high school senior Venus (Roberts) who, tired of fulfilling the shy sidekick role in her friend group, decides to participate as a "player" in an online game called "Nerve." You have the option to be a "watcher" or a "player" -- "players" participate in risky dares, live-streaming to "watchers" who pay to view the "players" complete their conquests. The whole thing sounds a little nebulous, but also similar enough to today's Pokemon Go, VR mania that it feels plausible in the near-off future.
The opening twenty minutes or so of the film are played and edited smoothly, helping ground the film's concept in the characters' authentic conversations and relationships. Sure, the story doesn't go without its overt cliches, but the sharp dialogue and screen presence of Emma Roberts and the other "teen" actors (Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, Kimiko Glenn, Marc John Jeffries) are more than enticing enough to forgive them.
The film shines when peppered with its more quick, authentic comedic beats - whether it's crass comments on the margins of the "Nerve" live-stream or a black hospital patient yelling "white people problems" at Venus's mom when she complains about money being randomly deposited into her account, 'Nerve' keeps a distinct momentum with these moments. One pivotal confrontation between Venus and her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) is, yes, juvenile, but works for exactly that reason - the rhythm and style of the dialogue feel so authentic that the scene dragged me right back to the decrepit halls of my high school.
Unfortunately, that's all 'Nerve' seems to thrive on: moments.
'Nerve' wants to be so many things - a sharp comedy, a high-concept action flick, a teen romance - that it never fully grips onto one of those things and, ultimately, feels tonally misguided. It gloats over its quirky self-awareness in its earlier dialogue, and then abandons any sense of logic in its preposterous third act and becomes the kind of movie its characters would poke fun at. And the attempted social commentary of the film's conclusion is so thinly veiled that it feels insulting.
Script issues aside, the film looks beautiful. Chris Trujillo's production design, Michael Simmonds's neon-infused cinematography and Madeleine Gavin's glitzy editing flash across the screen, creating a bubblegum pop urban landscape that teems with hints of perfunctory realism, gesturing toward the dystopia that seems to lie at the edge of the digital age.
It's too bad it never goes further than timid gestures.