Nerve Parent Review
There must be a better way for a girl to work up the nerve she needs to get some attention and tell her mom she wants to leave home for college!
In our narcissistic world there is a litany of ways for each of us to get our few minutes of fame. The problem is, our drive to be “someone” may lead to doing things that expose us to great risk—and this is particularly true for adolescents. Peer pressure isn’t new, but the addition of smartphones with streaming-everywhere video adds an entirely new way create those moments in the spotlight. In Nerve, we see this scenario played out in a manner that may or may not leave its target audience with a desire to keep their egos in check.
Vee and Sydney (Emma Roberts, Emily Meade) are oil and water high school friends. The former keeps a low profile at school and volunteers as a yearbook photographer. Her timid nature extends to being unable to confess to her mom that she’d like to go to school away from home. On the other extreme is Sydney, a senior who runs with the popular crowd and seeks out daring desires. When a trending online app, titled Nerve, is introduced into their social sphere, Sydney is quick to take full advantage of the opportunity. It also has the potential of fracturing her relationship with Vee.
Nerve, the game, is a deviously simple concept (and one I hope is never recreated in reality). On first use the app asks whether you want to be a “watcher” or a “player”. Choose “player” and you are immediately presented with a “dare” that, if completed, will result in money being deposited into your bank account (…which means the program has access to your financial information). The funds come from the “watchers” who pay a $20 monthly fee to be the audience and suggest what the challenges will be.
The dares grow in danger and complexity, and the funds paid out escalate as well—if the tasks are performed successfully. Sydney gets $100 after displaying her naked derrière under her cheerleading costume at a football game. (We also see the full moon.) Although she gets suspended from school, that’s an insignificant price to pay for someone determined to lead the pack of players in the game. Still, Sydney feels an intense desire to push boring Vee into being more adventurous too and her goading eventually leads the risk-adverse girl to press the “Player” button. What follows is a night of reckless antics with a virtual crowd cheering on alarming behavior and pitting these two pals against each other.
I squirmed during much of this film as I watched these teen characters make increasingly bad and, ultimately, life-threatening decisions. When Vee accepts her first assignment to go to a local restaurant and kiss a stranger for five seconds, she meets Ian (Dave Franco). It turns out he is playing too. After Ian completes his dare of singing and dancing, he convinces the pretty blonde to say yes to the next proposition, which is hoping on his motorcycle and heading into Manhattan. But these relatively benign, initial pranks soon turn into stunts that leave the pair running through the streets in their underwear, riding a motorcycle at highway speeds while blindfolded and crossing a ladder perched between two tall buildings. Other participants are seen taking part in escapades that include lying flat between rail tracks as a freight train passes overhead, hanging from high structures, leaping over flames and trying to jump subway lines.
From a purely filmmaking perspective, Nerve presents one of the more unique and engaging teen-targeted movies I’ve seen in some time. However, my parental instincts had me hanging onto the edge of my seat. How many of the young people in the theater with me were comprehending the possible long-term consequences of what they were seeing? With a screenplay that flirts with fire, the only hope it has of avoiding being branded as irresponsible would be to provide some significant life lessons about peer-pressure, social momentum, disconnection from reality and on-line safety. Unfortunately, few adolescences would pay good money to sit through such a lecture, so the script falls short of delivering those strong messages.
Aside from the primary issue of dangerous depictions that could easily be mimicked by viewers, the film also portrays minors drinking and smoking (likely an illegal substance), and implies sexual promiscuity. The neatly tied up conclusion might be interpreted to mean that death-defying frivolity is just what’s needed to experience positive personal growth. As well, characters benefit from all of this naughtiness. The good-girl wins the love interest of the bad-boy. (It’s kind of like Grease with smartphones.) Sydney gains respect for the sanctity of friendship. And the Vee’s nerdy best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) scores credit points after his hacking skills help save the night.
At the end of this tense rollercoaster ride, all that I can say is there must be a better way for a girl work up the nerve she needs to get some attention and tell her mom she wants to leave home for college.Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Starring Emma Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Dave Franco. Running time: 96 minutes. Updated September 14, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Nerve here.
Nerve Parents Guide
How does Vee get talked into doing more and more dangerous things? Despite saying she will get out if she feels uncomfortable, what factors contribute to her staying in the game? How might you be influenced by flattery, peer pressure, anger, pride and praise? What would you be willing to do for money?
Many of the watchers in the movie seem to forget that they are looking at real people putting themselves in harm’s way. Why might this disconnection occur? Does it ever happen to you when you are watching events on TV or other screens? What can you do to become more sensitive to real world issues?
In real life Emma Roberts, Emily Meade and Dave Franco are older than the characters they portray. (Emma is about 25, Emily 27 and Dave 31.) How might this affect the way you see them when they are engaging in activities which are illegal for teens – such as drinking at the party, or consenting to getting a tattoo?