Written By Matt Gilbert
Nerve Plot Summary:
Two teenagers (Dave Franco, Emma Roberts) sign up for a deadly game of dares across New York City for cash and glory, but soon enough become prisoners of the game, and must do whatever it takes to win
It’s neither a secret, nor a surprise that a fair amount of the working world aren’t fans of millennials. Almost like a chemical reaction, this new era of social media and interconnectivity has turned public perception of this generation’s youth. They are a vain, attention-seeking, small-thinking subspecies with no personal responsibility, and a smartphone surgically attached to their person. This is not entirely without reason. Over the past few years, numerous articles have popped up about individuals risking their lives for internet fame whether it be for the “perfect selfie” or, more tragically, disregarding the life of an innocent creature for the same purpose.
The new film Nerve sets its premise in this vein of self-centrism and removal of responsibility through anonymity. By its very nature, a movie like Nerve can only exist with a blatant spite for every one of its participants. In this case, everyone is either a “watcher” or “player.” “Watchers” shield themselves in anonymity to watch and influence from the sidelines; to take pleasure in the humiliation and/or danger others put themselves in. “Players” are obsessed with the idea of internet fame. They put themselves at the mercy of the watchers for increasingly dangerous dares. In this movie, there is no alternative. Every twenty-something in New York City is either a watcher or a player. Even the singular character who hates the idea of Nerve finds themselves involved as a watcher, even if just to stay informed. The moral high ground seems exclusively owned by the parent figures, and over-thirties who are way passed the age at which they would participate in the game — or enjoy this movie. Therefore, no one escapes the resentment Nerve has for its own audience.
This is a recipe for disaster before the movie has even gotten to its second act. The actual result is a score of increasingly unlikable characters pulled together by loose storytelling and a series unlikely scenarios. As previously mentioned, nearly every character represents one side or another of the barefaced hate the movie bears for millennials. The handful that don’t are given trimmed down, archetypal characters designed to plod around doing nothing until the plot has specific and predictable need for them. The movie even seems to hate its own protagonist, Vee (Roberts). The whole reason she signs up for Nerve is to break out of her socially awkward, comfort zoned shell — even though only one scene earlier seems to be defending her choice not to be more adventurous. It was shortly into the film’s second act, as the predictably repulsive internet comments rolled across the screen, that I realized I didn’t like any character in this movie. I don’t think the movie even wanted me to.
Roberts is joined onscreen by Dave Franco who plays Ian, another player who always knows more than he is telling. There’s also Sydney (Emily Meade), Vee’s best friend and personified caricature of millennial vanity and shallowness blown up to 11. Occasionally, rapper Machine Gun Kelly makes an appearance as a tattooed “wild man” player in a Mad Max jacket. Most of the time you question why he’s even in the movie even though his performance isn’t bad. Juliette Lewis is a cut and paste cliché of an overbearing mom completely out of touch with what her daughter wants adding nothing to the story. Miles Heizer uses his boyishly innocent looks as Vee’s cynical and overprotective walking Chekhov’s gun, Tommy. I found his character one of the more tiresome due to his condescending expository dialogue in direct opposition to the average nice guy persona he seems to believe he is.
By the time the third act rolls around, all the important information has been revealed, and the game has gathered our two main characters for the final round. Rather than engage in the sick and twisted puppetry the watchers have strung her up in, Vee makes a speech to every watcher in the game about anonymity and bravery. This moment is the spoon feeding of the film’s main message to the audience written all over it. It couldn’t be more obvious that it’s not just talking about Nerve here. It’s well-intentioned and certainly agreeable, but the movie would have had to be re-engineered top to bottom as a satire for it to work. Instead, it’s a total left turn as the vast majority of the movie focused on the players. It is severely missing the satirical elements required for Vee’s speech to have half the damning impact it so obviously intends to deliver.
A film that so clearly has no respect for its audience deserves none from it. Similar to a Purge movie, the film posits that the average person’s moral compass is so damaged that the sick pleasure he receives from watching Vee and Ian endanger and degrade themselves outweighs anything else in their lives, including their jobs and relationships. True or not, it comes off as a blatant insult to the millennials it has been made for. Truly unlikable characters confirm this, and a lackluster script turn it into an entirely forgettable, barely enjoyable movie. The brief moments where it feels some semblance of talent are spent watching montages of other Nerve players succeeding and failing in their dares where it transitions through time lapses, getting a sense of the scope of the game itself. Other than that, the movie is barely worth its 96-minute runtime. It’s a movie that dares you to suffer through its loathsome characters and bland story as it insults and spits on the audience it caters to. Then it has the gall to attempt to educate said audience by hammering in its own self-righteousness by way of a clunky and ham-fisted plot-solving speech. Do I accept? No. No, I do not.