Friday, May 12, 2017

Nerve (2016)

Nerve is a story about social media excess; how wrongly it has been used for self-actualization; for communication; and for interpersonal relationships. It could have been great had it not been distracted by what I assume are marketing priorities and gave the story’s two young lovebirds more focus than the game that brought them together: Nerve.

Nerve – might as well be short for ‘do you have the nerve’ – is a (hopefully fictional) social media fueled game of dare. There are watchers and there are players. Players do a dare for money and in turn they always seek the approval of the Watchers who shower them with hearts (what amounts to Likes).

Our heroine is Vee (Emma Roberts). High school is nearly over and she is going over her college applications. She loves her mother, Nancy (Juliette Lewis), but she’s tired of her overprotectiveness ever since her big brother died. So how can she make mom agree that she dreams of college far away?

At school Vee is the timid girl playing second fiddle to her bolder best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Outgoing and a cheerleader to boot, Sydney is a popular player in an online game Nerve.  Soon a clash of personalities ensued and Sydney finally let lose words that embarrassed Vee out of her safe zone.  Hurt and wanting approval, Vee plays Nerve.

Once in she goes on a wild goose chase as dictated by the Watchers. This is Vee’s first wild joyride across the city with the added bonus of having the company of a young rebel on a bike in Ian (Dave Franco). Nerve seems to have provided the best sendoff in a last-day-of-school kind of way, until the point that it wasn’t.

Ironically for a movie that is all about dares people I found it slow; the dares given to the players were juvenile. It was only around the 40 minute mark did any stunt become remotely life threatening. But a hero being a hero, real threat to the character’s existence was too much to expect so with that the threat of the mysterious anonymous mob online lost its teeth.

Before the 40 minute mark Nerve banked on Vee and Ian’s joyride like a young adult romance flick. Maybe I’m not buying the chemistry between Emma and Dave. Maybe I am just too old for that kind of joyride.

Nerve has a cast of 30 years and under. Anyone above is portrayed as, let’s just say, unable to comprehend the situation; starting with Nancy, Vee’s mom. Generational roles are distinct. Young ones and their devices rule. That and the music, this movie is really intended for the Millennials. And I am pushing 40.

If the plot skewed too much to young romance then cinematography brought it back on point albeit a little more cryptic. Everything is designed around the Internet, social media, and the devices. There are graphics for logins, webpages, forums, chats; sometimes texting takes place of dialogue. 

The go-to shot is a screen dividing the audience and the character. Literally it appears the character is looking at his or her device; the audience is like any Watcher in the movie; a computer screen standing in between.

It is an immersive experience almost as if I was watching online, logged in using my own Nerve account. Some of the camera were made to appear as if it was taken by camera phone – maybe they really are.

In Nerve the Watchers do the camera work, when called for, using their devices. If Players happen to be where the Watchers are then they those present shoot for Watchers online. It’s an online community feeding on itself. Contribute a video, a comment however absurd, then they feel that sense of community. 

Individually it is the same with Sydney whose sense of self feeds on how many watches her as do as host of other players. When she lost the top spot she loses her composure until it was revealed that her bravado is a mask like many others.

The point is a generation ago seeing those stunts would have the bystanders call the authorities; now people pick up their phones and shoot. There's no trolling or anonymous mobs; people will get in your face. The same meaning also can be derived from the screen dividing audience and character. Heralded as a new means to communicate, the excessive use of social media may actually be doing the opposite. The screen blocks the real person.

My age notwithstanding, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Tommy (Miles Heizer), the stereotypically friend zoned male friend, calling Vee’s mom as Nancy. Just Nancy. The friend calls her mother appropriately and Tommy sticks to Nancy. C’mon!?!

In terms of dramatic effect Tommy’s penchant to go on a first name basis is a distraction, for whenever a mother calls a child’s good friend in the middle of the night it means trouble. Just calling the mother Nancy makes me forget there’s even a mother in the story. I might have too if Juliet Lewis would pass for someone under 30.

I wonder sometimes if this is the filmmaker missing out on one detail.  Or if like the millennial attachment to their devices could it be a statement also?

Vee’s solution to Nerve is realistically on point.  Maybe it’s too simple but the plot wasn’t that big anyway. What’s important is that it makes sense and keeps with the movie’s message. It can be a little too preachy because Vee gave all the lessons that need learning in a very candid speech.

If you didn’t catch that part see the way Vee ended the movie, still on message, but now more concise.

“No more phones… I’d rather just see you”.