Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nerve (2016) [PG-13]

Director: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Writer: Jessica Sharzer
Emma Roberts as Venus "Vee" Delmonico
Dave Franco as Ian/Sam
Miles Heizer as Tommy
Emily Meade as Sydney
Machine Gun Kelly/Colson Baker as Ty
Brian Marc as J.P.
Juliette Lewis as Nancy

Synopsis: When a high school girl starts to feel like her future is crumbling, she turns to the newest social media trend: An online dare-game called "Nerve". Will it give her what's been missing in her life or will it take away what little she has left?

Acting:  18/20

Writing:  38/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  36/40

Overall:  92/100 A-

Although this film is very much done in a high school-style, the cast does a better job than your average high school play actors. Every single cast member delivers a solid performance in this film and does justice to their characters - which were consistent and believable.

Though his role is more of a side character than leading character, Miles Heizer does an outstanding job with his performance. Talented actors will shine whether they are in the spotlight or not and Heizer definitely shines in this film. He really gives himself over to the character and captures a lot of nuance for an unknown actor.

This film delivers an excellent social commentary about social media and the youth today. Not only does this show in the overall plot, but the film is also rich with symbolism and subtle references.

Review: Spoiler Alert! 

The symbolism and negative foreshadowing in regards to the Nerve game was executed brilliantly:

  • First introduction to the game is a video that is very reminiscent of "brain-washing" videos. This symbolizes the inherent malicious nature of the game.
  • After the introductory video for the game plays, it ends by repeating "Watcher or Player? Watcher or Player?" in an assertive manner, showing the inherent peer-pressure nature of social media.
  • A recurring theme we see in the game, primarily for the first dare, is the willingness to embarrass and/or debase oneself. (Sydney = Mooning the Audience; Venus = Kissing a Stranger; etc.) This was very symbolic of how people have become so obsessed with wealth and fame today, that they will do anything to get it - including losing their dignity (the first thing to go when one becomes greedy and superficial).
  • Just like any other social media app out there right now, the game is able to download your personal information - which the game then uses to customize your dares, just like Pandora uses your picks to customize your music "stations".
  • The constant watching and commentary from watchers was a great allusion to the fact that too many young people today care too much about what other people think. They are living more for other people and what other people want, rather than being unique and more independent.
  • The game seems to be an emotional outlet for people; Just like social media itself.
  • Venus' decision to play the game "because it's not like her" is very symbolic of all of the people who go online because they don't really like themselves and/or their own lives - hence they often use social media to escape and sometimes, pretend to be someone else.
  • The way Tommy responded to recording Venus's first dare, saying "Jeez. Why do I feel embarrassed?" was a remarkable way of showing how both "viewers" and "players" are negatively affected by the game - as both are still participating in it. This is symbolic of how people can be negatively effected by social media even if they are just looking at other people's pages etc. and not as proactively posting things themselves.
  • The game led people into the city where there are more users, people, action, possibilities and trouble for the "players" as well as more "watchers". This was very symbolic of how people naturally coalesce and how this can sometimes be used against them. This was also symbolic of nothing drawing the crowd more, than the crowd itself. (Bandwagon Effect.)
  • Even though Venus and Ian had instant, natural chemistry between them; The game came first and dictated their choices more than themselves. This was symbolic of how young people today focus more on the "status" of their relationships, rather than the more genuine and substantial elements to it.
  • The game choosing a tattoo as one of the dares, was very symbolic of how some choices you make involving social media can have long-term impacting consequences; As well as how whenever you post something online, it stays there (in the internet) forever.
  • As players, Venus and Ian didn't realize that their phones were automatically recording and streaming them live; Just as most people are not aware that their modernized phones and laptops etc. can do the exact same thing. (See Snowden film.)
  • As Sydney was doing the "ladder-height" dare, the opinions being shouted around her varied all along the spectrum; Just as social media gives a voice to opinions from all along the spectrum. (Her real friends all wanted her not to go through with the dare, because they actually cared more about her life than the game and her "status".) 
  • When Sydney was on the ladder, she kept being told she has to "walk" across the ladder, which was awful advice as that makes it more dangerous not less, just as strangers online can give you similar awful advice (especially when they don't personally know you or are just saying what you want to hear).
  • The fact that Venus had ignored her mom throughout the film until "it was too late" and she had already broken the rules of the game, was very symbolic of all of the kids online who venture into trouble and never say anything about it to their parents until "it's too late" and the damage has already been done. (Also a great argument for why parents should regulate their children's social media "lives" more.)
  • In order for anyone to win "1st place" they had to be willing to give their lives (ladder dare, laying on the train tracks dare, hanging from the construction crane dare, etc.) - this was foreshadowing to the "final round".
  • The "prisoner" concept was very clever because it had the proper information for blackmail (believable) and it made sense that the game would want to use a "default player" to get things started and "lead the way for others to follow" to ensure the game continues after each "round" is over (logical).
  • The message on the Ferry Terminal, as well as other aspects of the film, were very reminiscent of the movie The Game. In fact, this film seemed to be a modern take on that film in some ways.
  • The final round was very symbolic of the Roman Colosseum - a structured, group-oriented setting to hurt others for sport and entertainment; Just like the online world offers a structured, group-oriented setting to hurt others for sport and entertainment.
  • The speech that Venus gave in the final round had a lot of allusions to the great film, Network, especially the way she exposed the reality of the situation.
  • When the crowd rejected Venus' speech and chose anarchy instead, this was a great allusion to the book and film, Lord of the Flies.
  • In order for the scheme in the finale to actually work, it was imperative that Ian's character not know the truth - because they needed to sell this performance as authentically as possible. Some directors use this tactic in their films and they withhold information about the script from their actors because they believe this will result in a more genuine delivery.
  • The scheme that Venus and Ty were able to pull off was brilliant because it forced the watchers to learn "perception vs. reality". They all said they wanted to see her get shot and killed. Yet when it happened and the veil was lifted, and the time came for them to stand by their actions, they all scurried away and withdrew from the game. They didn't want to continue once they could see the potential consequences for their actions; they didn't want to continue once the facade was down.
  • Just like many of the things on social media, the little act that Venus and Ty put on, along with the bullet and blood, were all "fake" - just an act. 

The symbolism wasn't reserved to the game though. Sydney, the adrenaline-junkie and first Nerve "player" we see in the film, had the words "Teenage Dirtbag" on her phone. She is the one who peer-pressures Venus into playing the game and doesn't ever take accountability for her own actions. When she approached JP "for" Venus, it may have been coming from a good place but it completely blew up in her face when JP was more interested in her than Venus. Instead of acknowledging that she made a big mistake, she tried to blame JP and call him the jerk, even though he was not rude and actually pretty polite about the situation. It wasn't his fault that he wasn't interested in Venus nor that Sydney put him "on the spot" in front of everyone. Also, just like the game, Sydney had no boundaries and cared more about what she wanted than her friends (or in terms of the game, the players). She also had no qualms about whatever the game was asking her to do, as she embraced the game (i.e. farting challenge, obsession with viewers, etc.). She embodied the worst of the modern, social media-obsessed teenagers. After being embarrassed by Venus' "confession", it was typical "teenage dirtbag" and self-destructive behavior for her to hook up with J.P. and purposefully try to hurt Venus - who hadn't known she was being recorded and wasn't trying to hurt Sydney. In fact, Sydney actually did the very kind of things that Venus had just been complaining about - reinforcing herself as a "bad" girl rather than choosing to accept responsibility and make better choices. Even by the end of the film, Sydney was blaming Ian for getting Venus "into this mess in the first place," even though she was far more at fault for Venus getting involved than Ian was. By contrast, Venus accepted responsibility for her own actions and said "I got me into this mess"- which is why she's the one who defeated the game and got her happy ending.

The "cat fight" scene between Venus and Sydney being purely verbal and not physical was very sensational and compelling. It really showed how much power words of truth can have over violence, especially between females. This was a fantastic modernized version of the cliche cat fight - especially with the line, "You're one of those girls that peaks in high school"! (In my opinion, this was far more entertaining than the cliche physical cat fight.)

The fact that Venus' name was "Venus" was a great allusion to the modern self-esteem model going on with young people nowadays. We keep telling young people that they're all going to be "the best". Naming your kid after a Roman God is definitely putting a lot of pressure/expectation of your child to be "greater than average".

The film also does a good job setting up Venus' situation in the beginning and how easily children can become victims of single mothers. While her mother has no malicious intent, Venus still has the burden that most children of single mothers have when they reach adulthood: when the single mom wants the child-now-adult to make sacrifices for the "family", rather than the other way around. As expected, Juliette Lewis does her usually excellent job at playing the bad mom (see Hysterical Blindness film) - trying to force her fantasy about the situation on her daughter, by saying she'll be her "college roommate". (Yikes!)

When Venus meets "Ian" and he is holding her favorite book, it was brilliant the way she immediately apologized after offering such an intellectual discussion about it. This was very symbolic of how many in the social media generation prefer superficiality to substance and how she felt the need to apologize for saying something smart and stimulating - something previous generations didn't experience as they weren't so anti-intellectual.

The character of Tommy as the best friend - with a crush on the lead - was great symbolism of what has happened to a lot of young men today. He was dressed in traditional clothes from a previous era and represented the traditional "voice of reason". He was also the first to be suspicious of the game's intentions, manipulations and capabilities. However, as with many males in the Millennial and younger generations, he had lost a lot of his masculinity. He had traded a lot of masculinity for a more sensitive/passiveness, and unfortunately, it didn't get him the girl - though he did "save the day" and put an end to the game (and he seemed to have a shot with Sydney at the end). Even when he did try to be more assertive and stand up for Venus by speaking for her, it wasn't done right and came off more offensive and "crossing-the-line". He hadn't honed the skills of when to put his foot down and how etc.

Tommy's character was also an interesting contrast to Ian/Sam's. Ian was clearly not as smart as Tommy but he was much more suave and masculine overall. The chemistry between the two - primarily the reactions in Tommy's character to Ian's character - was exceptional. Heizer did such a good job playing the jealous role and delivered his lines with brilliant nuance ("I'm sorry I'm sitting here.") The entire diner scene between these two from beginning to end was hilarious. From the "It's a dare" response to "He thought those were our fries", Heizer really delivered in his performance, primarily when it came to subtlety. This also showed how most women still choose masculinity (Ian) over other qualities in men (Tommy), instinctually (her previous crush JP, was an athlete).

Even though Venus was very interested in Ian, it was ironic that she tried to push her friend Sydney in her place - which probably had something to do with the fact that she just saw that JP would have rather chosen Sydney over herself. This was very symbolic of how many "good" girls today feel inferior to the "bad" girls that are more sexually proactive and confident. It also shows how young girls today know too little about the difference between when a guy is looking for "party girls" and when a guy is looking for a "steady girl".

I also liked how the film showed that Venus and Ian were abundantly awkward at first whenever they were in person, showing why a lot of young people today just choose social media instead of more personal forms of communication (since they have the option).

"White people problems" was a great little nuanced commentary of how sometimes racism comes from non-White people to White people. When the black man heard Lewis saying "someone's sending me money?" and responded with "white people problems" without any context to the situation, it showed how he immediately assumed that it must have been a racial thing and that there could be no negatives associated with it. In reality, just minutes later the film was showing how Venus, a white girl, experienced prejudice from both a white man and woman about not being able to afford the expensive clothing in the store when she was asking for the dress - and she really couldn't afford it! (Not to mention that the money was tied to this sinister game that could cost you your life.)

There was also some allusions to the "power of anonymity", which were also executed brilliantly:
  • Since Venus and Ian didn't know their phones were recording their conversation, it allowed the unfiltered truth to come out (about Sydney having a "revolving door of guys" and how Venus thought "it's sad, really" because she's the one who's really "insecure".
  • By the finals round, the "Watchers" were wearing masks and bandanas to cover their identity - very similar to the modern emotional fascists aka ANTIFA.
  • Venus' speech exposed the "watchers" as being responsible in their own ways for participating, despite the fact that they wore these masks to make them brave and feel like they weren't responsible.

This movie did indulge in some classic Hollywood liberties (though it did provide some balance when showing all of the "fails" which outnumbered these following successes):

  • The entire bike scene where the couple did not get hurt or crash, even with Ian being blindfolded and getting up to 60mph was completely unbelievable - including the ending of that scene.
  • The entire ladder-height scene (with both girls) was very unbelievable, primarily when Venus was able to walk across - even if she is petite size.
  • Ty living through the train scene was very unbelievable.

Juliette Lewis' quote near the end, "you guys are the dumbest, smartest kids I ever met" was a great statement about the youth today. In some ways, they are very smart and have a ton of knowledge and education at the tip of their fingertips, which gives them a lot of potential; On the other hand, they make a lot of bad decisions and too often act impulsively, self-centeredly and carelessly (not thinking of potential long-term outcomes).

Ending the film by having Venus texting/emailing Sam "No more phones... I'd rather just see you" and getting confirmation to meet up before signing offline, was probably the best possible way to end the film.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This film had a surprising amount of witty quips that were very funny and always delivered perfectly.

The movie's lowest point is honestly it's soundtrack. Yikes! Most of the music was pretty awful and corny in the worst way. That being said, I do think there was a point to it, as the music was obviously lacking in artistic feel and talent; just like Millennials and younger so far have been lacking in artistic feel and talent (as a Generation compared to previous ones). With all of the other symbolism and allusions going on in this film, I don't think it's far-fetched to think the music was decided on, along the same lines.

Overall this film was a phenomenal social commentary on the social media generation. A surprisingly thought-provoking teen film with compelling performances.

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