Nerve is one of those movies I’ve meant to watch for four years. I remember being interested when I first saw trailers in 2015, and somehow, never got around to it. I read the book last summer, and decided it was time.
Going into the book, I had low expectations. The little bit I knew about the book and the movie told me that they were very different. Ultimately, I didn’t love Nerve as a book, but that didn’t stop me from watching the movie. Because the core of the story – the game itself – was interesting. And every once in a while, I’d recall the concept and the trailer and go, “Oh! That’s right, that movie looked cool.” Social distancing seemed like the perfect time to dive into movie nights with my husband, and Nerve got put on the rotation.
I’m so happy it did. I have a lot to say about this one.
First of all, I just want to talk about the feat it is to make a YA book into a movie that is watchable for people outside the genre. A lot of YA-adaptations make me cringe – the love stories are maximum cheesy, and the stories themselves aren’t great on screen, no matter how good they are on paper. Not all of them, but certainly too many. Nerve creates a sweeping story with character growth, realistic tech, and interesting relationships on many different levels. I liked it as a film, adaptation elements aside.
If we’re going for the quality of adaptation, then I’ve got to be honest, Nerve is not true to the book. Maybe a 30% loyal rate. The film takes the concept of the game, the characters’ names, and their bare-bones relationships and takes them to the next level. All the characters are a little deeper, a little more layered, with the exception of Tommy.
Tommy is a character I didn’t like in the book, and I equally didn’t like him in the film – I actually appreciated the way his character was given less screen time because there was a love triangle going on in the book that nobody needed, lets be honest. Tommy’s character remains pretty true to his origin, where the others were not quite as neatly adapted. Sydney is a lot more self-involved, Vee is a lot less shallow, and Ian is a lot less of a stereotypical bad boy character.
Also, I really enjoyed the way the film team worked with Ty’s character as well. I hated Ty in the book with a fiery passion and I was really ready to hate him in the movie. I had a whole pile of judgment heaped up for him, but I decided against it after finishing the film. I don’t want to talk about this too much, but Ty’s character arc is something worth watching Nerve for – it’s a really excellent twist that I didn’t see coming and should have. Never underestimate minor characters, my friends.
In the book, I didn’t care much for the quickly budding relationship between Ian and Vee… but in Nerve, on screen, it makes sense. The adrenaline is there that makes the rollercoaster ride romance a bit more understandable.
I also thought that Dave Franco and Emma Roberts had really good on screen chemistry. The acting was solid from both of them – the energy remained high for the entire film and I was glued. Like, I knew basically what should happen from reading the book, but I was constantly afraid that the characters were going to die, so the thriller aspect was still there. A lot of adrenaline in this film, and the actors were up to the challenge.
The evolution of the game comes off a bit differently from the book – one of the things I was most flummoxed about was that Vee was doing all these things for fancy sneakers or a makeover in the books. Like, why though? And the escalation of dares in the book was nuts – Nerve players went from coffee shop dates to playing prostitute to murder. The escalation in the film made a lot more sense, and the prizes made a lot more sense. The setting felt more real, more alive, and the characters thrived in the environment.
Obviously, Nerve isn’t perfect. Vee’s mom should have been way more freaked out than she was. Ian’s explanation was quick and accepted very easily. I suppose there wasn’t much of a choice, in the context of the film itself, but it still bothered me a little. I also wasn’t fond of the hacker circle – I feel like a lot of books align “tech person” with “hacker” way too easily and while that was actually a plot point in Nerve, it is too common in general. Especially the idea that a bunch of geeky kids have quick and easy access to the dark web.
And, of course, you have all the high school seniors played by adults, which gives teens a skewed view, but I’m cutting that aspect some slack because this is not a contemporary, and I really do think the actors did a fabulous job.
All things considered, I don’t mind any of the changes they made from the book, because I though the idea of Nerve was really good, but the execution didn’t work in the book format – whether it was formatting or writing is up to the reader. The film version was a lot of fun.
Honestly, movie-version Vee is just delightful and I would have wanted to be friends with her in high school. So brave, but also so awkward. 🙂
I want to appreciate exactly how much I loved Emma Roberts here, portraying a girl with a lot on her mind finally giving herself permission to do something for herself. Did she make a good choice in outlet? Abso-freaking-lutely not. But the transformation of Vee’s character from the early scenes to the ending sequence was awesome. Will she be an entirely different person? No. But I think her growth arc was realistic and I appreciated it.
Regardless of what you thought of the book Nerve by Jeanne Ryan, I highly recommend the movie. It was a great watch with a bunch of twists I didn’t expect. And while it is not like the book practically at all, I will take that great and terrible chance of saying I thought the movie was better.
Oh yes. I went there.
We had a lot of fun watching Nerve and appreciated the filmography and the acting and the story in general, and also worrying that characters were going to fall to their deaths… so that was good. If you’re interested in stories where the technology gets scary real and people are forced to choose between comfort and safety… and stories where there’s a point of no return, Nerve may be a great watch for you. I hope you like it as much as I did!
How big of a dare would you do for $1000? $5000? I am not sure what I would do – I think I’d need to make the decision in the moment – I like to think I’m brave, but I haven’t really been tested on that, so… maybe I’d bail? What about you? Would you take the high-stakes dares? Let me know in the comments!