You want to watch a movie because it has ladies in it? You want to watch any movie at all?
Here you go! This is the movie for you.
Nerve follows wallflower Vee Delmonico (Emma Roberts) — Vee short for Venus, if you want to get literary. About to graduate from high school, Delmonico has made a reputation for staying in the background while her friend, Sydney (Emily Meade) takes up the spotlight. Sydney is a competitor in an illegal online game called Nerve, in which watchers vote on dares for players, and whoever can gain the most followers wins a massive cash prize. In a jealous haze, Delmonico signs up as a player. Her first dare is to kiss a stranger, and the watchers direct her to Ian (Dave Franco), another player. They are then both dared to go to the city together, and what follows is a Midsummer New York City Night’s Dream with twisted, sinister overtones.
Nerve is physically beautiful. What you see, what you hear, it’s a beautiful film. Hollywood has become a color-starved world full of dulled teal and orange, but Nerve is filled to the brim with primary colors in brilliant neon. Nearly every frame of this movie is drop-dead gorgeous, and the ones that aren’t are intentionally not. Forgoing all the other great things this movie has going for it, it deserves a recommendation for this reason alone. It is vibrant and electric and alive and richly detailed and something you can really enjoy watching, something to behold.
The sound is almost competitive with the visuals. Nerve is a jukebox musical with a fantastic playlist, which it takes every excuse to break to. Frequent montages are normally a death knell for a movie, but the images they push in these sequences are just as beautiful as everything else and contribute vitally to the story. If it weren’t these songs, it would be some other sound covering these scenes.
Nerve focuses on high schoolers and their petty squabbles, another typical death knell that works fantastically here. At its core, Nerve is a coming-of-age love story, and even on that level it works on the seemingly innocent charm of its leads. But it also delves deep into Sydney’s neurotic need for attention and Tommy’s (Miles Heizer) suffocating crush on Delmonico, and this is where the film’s darker undercurrents really start to come to its rescue. The movie takes a character in Sydney who would normally be played as a standard Queen Bee bitch and lays bare her depravity and desperation. It takes a lame nice guy in Tommy and pushes him aside and shows the entitlement that comes with that label, then turns around and makes even him a worthwhile character.
Larger themes on the price of fame and the ever-present eyes of a public with no accountability weigh heavier and heavier as the film goes on.
A lot of things about this movie have been a long time coming. We’ve had a ton of movies shot entirely on handheld devices — directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are primarily known for found footage features Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 and 4 — and even one full feature of a computer screen, but these were all primarily as gimmicks. Nerve shifts seamlessly from traditional to handheld to cell phone cameras, all while maintaining its photographic panache. This is probably the first movie to be fully set in the 2010s, casually using and abusing the communication technology of this era.
Nerve opened last Wednesday to a five-day total of just $15 million, and that’s absolutely criminal, especially given the film’s context. Stupid people are up in arms right now that Ghostbusters is failing because they’ve bought into the narrative that sexism is the only reason it could fail, instead of the myriad reasons like mediocre audience reaction, a catastrophic marketing campaign, far too big a budget and the general public not really wanting this movie in the first place. The narrative pushed by Sony’s predominantly male team of executives is that if you don’t like their movie with a male co-editor and a male co-writer and a male co-producer based on an original work that was made by a bunch of men and directed by Paul Feig, who has built his fame on the work of women actors who he never really made better in any way, you’re sexist, but in Nerve we have a distinctly feminine movie with a lone woman writer (Jessica Sharzer) and a lone woman editor (Madeleine Gavin) and a lone woman producer (Allison Shearmur) based on a novel written by a woman (Jeanne Ryan), and more importantly than that, we have a movie that is actually really, really good.
So if you want to pick a movie that supports women filmmakers — if you want to go see any movie at all, really. Handicapping that I haven’t seen The Infiltrator yet, Nerve is by far the best thing in theaters right now and Lights Out is all that comes close — don’t pay Sony for the privilege of sitting through that vapid mess so you can tell yourself you’re doing something important.
Go see Nerve.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.