“Nerve” Review (****)

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Dave Franco and Emma Roberts star in “Nerve.”

Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts), your average, quiet yearbook photographer from Staten Island, gets challenged by her adrenaline junkie BFF to play the hot-new thing: NERVE. Watcher or Player, Vee declines until insult is added to injury in front of a crush. Fast forward three minutes and Vee is logging in as a player, ready to accept her first dare and receive her first payment. An easy $100 for kissing a stranger; not bad for a down-on-her-luck girl trying to save money and go to college.

Though the dares start small, the risks take off and Vee finds herself in a whirlwind of life threatening challenges alongside the mysterious, tall, dark, and handsome Ian (Dave Franco). “Nerve” is a movie that questions what it means to live behind your computers, and how far people will go with an anonymous screen name. As Vee’s friends watch her new daredevil lifestyle from the comfort of a house party, the stakes are raised, jealousy ensues, and a hint of voyeurism settles on the audience.

Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman—known for 2010 sensation “Catfish”—are veterans of cyber-world story telling and give life beyond 1s and 0s to a generation that is so frequently stuck behind a screen. The dares may be through a computer game, but the real-life action is a non-stop thrill. Similar to their previous work in “Catfish,” “Nerve” addresses modern issues through a fun, palatable medium and these directors hope to continue the conversations previously sparked about the dangers of technology and anonymity.

Pumped up by the previews, I was stoked for this film. Knowing how I can often be sorely disappointed if my expectations get too out of hand, I did my best to talk this film down before entering the theatre… it did not work. I was really excited. However, I was not disappointed. Though it didn’t exceed my expectations, this movie did exactly what I wanted. Emma Roberts played the average girl to start but really kicked her female independence into high gear—refusing to become subject to the pressures of the game and her male counterpart. (I mean, yeah, he talked her into a couple of dares, but look at his smile! We all would.) And Dave Franco—while managing to portray a strong male lead—complemented, rather than overshadowed, Vee in a way that highlighted the two as co-leads. The ‘bad guys’ were bad, the ‘best guy friend’ was a geeky male pining after Vee, and the ‘best girl friend’ was playfully competitive. I felt like I was back in high school. Even knowing these very common characters, I was never bored and got lost in the tale.

Not only is the concept crazy beyond comprehension, the angst of the teenagers is legitimate, making each dumb decision realistically justified. I found myself gripping my seat, biting my nails, and wanting to just scream ‘STOP BEING AN IDIOT!’ But the narrative took care of that, too, making it so the characters’ were forced into certain decisions.

I’ll put it out there and say that the soundtrack is, what the kids call it these days, ‘dope.’ With the likes of Icona Pop and BØRNS, Lionsgate definitely knew what they were doing with their target market—allowing the music to carry the transition scenes with a modern grace seemingly special to those of the Youtube generation. And yet, the upbeat tunes kept audience members of all ages’ heart rates up from start to finish.

There’s something about bright lights, big cities that make people feel like they can do anything, and watching this movie was no exception. Dream big and live large.

4 out of 5 stars.

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