'Nerve' tackles reality TV obsessions
Based on Jeanne Ryan’s novel of the same name, “Nerve” takes on modern society, especially the ongoing obsession with reality television. While highly ambitious and clever at times, the adaptation isn’t very satisfying, even with a talented and attractive cast of characters.
Emma Roberts plays Venus, a bright high school student who feels trapped on Staten Island. Vee, as friends and family call her, wants to leave the nest and attend an art school in California. Unfortunately, she simply doesn’t have the nerve to tell her mom (Juliette Lewis) what she really wants to do.
Her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), on the other hand, has enough confidence for the both of them. As a player in the online game “Nerve,” Sydney accepts dares from people watching via the Internet. Dares can be as simple as kissing a stranger or as dangerous as hanging off a bridge.
The riskier the task, the richer the reward. After an embarrassing incident at a diner, Vee becomes a player as well. The high school senior likes the freedom that comes with living on the edge, but she doesn’t realize how much the game has invaded her life.
Somewhat critical of today’s low-attention span society, “Nerve” is a slick thriller that gets in its own way at times. Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman create some intriguing action sequences, making good use of the New York City backdrop. The poorly-executed plot takes away from their good work, though.
Emma Roberts and co-star Dave Franco do have incredible chemistry, though. Franco plays Ian, another “Nerve” player who becomes Vee’s partner in this adventure. The dangerous assignments also fuel their growing passion for each other.
Roberts easily turns in the most compelling performance in the entire production. Her expressive face shows Vee’s frustrations at her own inability to speak her mind. The high school senior has dreams, but is afraid to try to achieve them. Roberts also has some nice moments with Juliette Lewis, but the veteran actress is wasted in this piece.
As best friend/rival Sydney, Emily Meade is too cartoonish to take seriously. It looks like the actress watched “Mean Girls” too many times before production began. And the audience simply doesn’t learn enough about Vee’s friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) to make him interesting. Making this boy-next-door a hacker is a nice touch, though.
“Nerve” also compartmentalizes people into two categories: watchers or players. An online game like this fits perfectly in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube. But can’t a person both observe and be proactive at the same time? “Nerve” doesn’t think so and keeps reinforcing that point.
Overall, “Nerve” is worth a look, if nothing else for the interactions between Roberts and Franco. Their acting abilities rise above the bumps and potholes in the storyline.
“Nerve,” rated PG-13 for thematic material including dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity, opens in theaters on Wednesday, July 27.