Starring: Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Miles Heizer, Emily Meade, Juliette Lewis
Rated PG-13 for Thematic Material involving Dangerous and Risky Behavior, Some Sexual Content, Language, Drug Content, Drinking and Nudity-All Involving Teens
Finally, there’s a movie worth going to the theaters for! Hollywood has been suffering from a brutal year, with less tickets being bought than ever in the past 100 years. With crap like “Neighbors 2” or even “Captain America: Civil War” dominating the market, it’s no secret why. “Nerve” puts an end to that drought.
Vee (Roberts) is a high school student in New York City. She’s too shy to tell her mother that she wants to go to an art school on the other side of the country and even her friends kid her about it. After she’s turned down by a boy she likes (adding insult to injury, it’s through a third party), she decides to do something about it. Everyone is playing a game called “Nerve,” where “watchers” bet big money for “players” to do risky (and often illegal) stunts. Vee takes a deep breath and decides to become a player. Her first dare is to kiss a random stranger. Then, because viewers like them, the next one is a dare to take a ride into the city with said stranger, whose name is Ian (Franco). She starts to like the guy, but then the dares get more and more extreme. Soon, they’re in way over their heads, and the only way out is to finish the game.
“Nerve” is one of those movies that starts out in one genre and ends up in another. Such a transition is difficult to pull off, but directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (the guys behind the intriguing but mis-marketed documentary “Catfish” six years ago) handle the transition well. They satisfy the needs of both genres: romance and suspense. We like Vee and Ian and like them even more when they’re together. But the movie doesn’t fall apart once the suspense kicks in; they turn the screws on the characters (and the audience) in ways that would impress Hitchcock. One particularly insane stunt is scarier than anything in most horror movies.
The two leads are great. Emma Roberts is terrific as Vee. It’s easy to buy her as a shy teenager because she doesn’t go over-the-top; she’s normal except that she displays the insecurities that we all have at her age. Dave Franco, who is quickly establishing himself as being much more talented than his older and more famous brother, is also good. He has the swagger to pull off a romantic lead, but also the vulnerability to play the victim of a sadistic trap. There are other characters in the film, such as Tommy (Heizer), the boy who has loved Vee from afar, and Sydney (Meade), Vee’s more extroverted (and competitive) BFF, but the directors resist the temptation to overuse them. They’re in the film just enough to serve their purpose, and they’re written and acted well enough that they need only minimal development. Joost and Schulman keep the focus on Vee and Ian. Just as it should be.
There are a few contrivances in the film’s final act that prevent the film from getting a perfect 4/4, but make no mistake: this is a great movie.