The basic story of Nerve is set around Josh (Tyler Langdon), a man with severe social anxiety disorder who one night disappears from his apartment, seemingly never to return. As the film plays out, his friends recount recent events in Josh’s life, letting the audience in on what is going on.
For one, Josh was the subject of a thesis by psychology student Aurora (Laura Alexandra Ramos), who was helping Josh deal with his social anxiety while recording the results. Results that involved the nervous Josh running the highs and lows of his problems; sometimes gregarious and outgoing to a fault, other times paralyzed into non-action and (somewhat) non-being. At one point Josh even begins inviting homeless people to live in his apartment with he and his cocaine-addicted roommate Walt (Peter DiVito). And yet, as the opening of the film sets up, Josh is missing. Where exactly did he end up?
I wasn’t entirely with the “missing person” aspect of the film, honestly; it didn’t feel necessary to me in order to get across what was going on in Josh’s life, though the end result does offer a tempting explanation and/or expansion upon the idea of where his issues may come from and how he deals with them. It was a choice by the filmmaker, obviously, to frame the tale that way, and all I’m really saying here is that I would’ve been okay with the more traditional, straightforward unveiling of the narrative.
My other main criticism of the film is perhaps one of visual composition, and a feeling of separation from the image. No, I’m not expecting noir lighting and shots of the ceiling, but there are movies that you feel like you’re immersed in, and movies that just take place on a screen in front of you. Nerve fell into the latter category; while the acting was far more subtle than a play, it did have that on-stage feeling of things just rolling out in front of you.
Perhaps it’s the width of the framing? Blocking? Honestly, it’s one of those visual peccadilloes that, when it happens, I can’t seem to get beyond it but I am often hard-pressed to explain how it happens in a constructive enough way (believe it or not, I like to explain why I do or don’t dig something in as constructive a manner as I can come up with). I just felt removed from the film.
The tone of the film is also of a distinct flavor that I imagine some will embrace wholeheartedly while others may be put off. It definitely lives up to its Facebook page’s “dramedy” label, with more of a leaning toward drama than comedy. Actually, I don’t remember finding anything terribly humorous, but there were moments that I know were there for that purpose. But that’s the distinct tone I’m talking about; simply, the film doesn’t imbue any one label, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the narrative rhythm of the film sometimes feels off.
All that said, Laura Alexandra Ramos’s portrayal of Aurora is a standout display of acting, as she is tasked with some of the more challenging emotional heavy-lifting and more than holds her own. Of course, Tyler Langdon’s Josh has to keep your interest and attention for the bulk of the film (if you don’t really care for him and his journey, things don’t really work), and he too shows himself capable of being up to the workload.
In the end, Nerve is a film with an acquired taste to it; one that you must, and can, acquire as it unfolds, though that is the risk the film takes. The subject matter of social anxiety, and those that suffer from it and the ways to cope with or overcome their problems, is one that I appreciated being tackled, even if I wasn’t with the film every step of the way. Films don’t always get across what they’re trying to say, or the message isn’t always received by knuckleheads like me, but I do appreciate those that show enough respect for the audience to even make the attempt.
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