(On Cable TV, April 2017) Mark me down as pleasantly surprised by energetic teenage techno-thriller Nerve. It’s got an intriguing premise coupled with a rather good execution, and it doesn’t take itself all that seriously nor pretend that it’s anything other than what it is. Adapted from a novel (but wisely choosing to lighten up the original material), Nerve takes current anxieties about social media and puts them into a blender. What comes out is a mobile game in which participants are asked to perform increasingly dangerous dares for an audience of thousands. Smartphones are essential, and so are throngs of followers. Our heroine (Emma Roberts, rather good) falls into the rabbit-hole by accident, but it doesn’t take a long time for her to be stuck alongside a bad-boy teammate (Dave Franco, decent enough) as the stakes increase. (Elsewhere in casting, fans of Orange is the New Black will be amused to see two of the series’ distinctive actresses, Kimiko Glenn and Samira Wiley, back on-screen albeit not necessarily together.) While clearly aimed at a teenage audience, Nerve does benefit from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s sense for the zeitgeist and keeping things moving. New York City makes for a fun playground to the action, and the film doesn’t quite shy away from ruminating on the viewer’s complicity in outlandish internet stunts. It’s a teenage film that couldn’t exist as such if it had been made for adults, and that’s quite a distinction by itself. Otherwise, Nerve is a tight 96-minutes thriller, perfect to watch as long as expectations are kept low enough to be surprised.
(Netflix Streaming, March 2017) From its first few off-beat moments, It’s Kind of a Funny Story finds strong kinship in the kind of modest teen dramedies adapted from novels that would become so popular in the 2010s. The literary origins of the script make for a more unusual premise and issues (namely: depression and institutionalization) that hit harder than the average teen movie. Keir Gilchrist is fine as the mostly-mopey protagonist, a depressed teenager who voluntarily checks into a psychiatric hold after a suicide attempt. It doesn’t spoil anything to say that he gets better over the course of the film, encountering friendship and possibly love along the way. Zach Galifianakis in fine form is the wildcard of the story, while Emma Roberts is cute enough as a likely love interest counterbalancing Zoe Kravitz’s more superficial false flame. Otherwise, it’s a movie perhaps more notable for the fractured way in which the first half-hour is handled, leading to a more conventionally heartfelt conclusion. It’s good without being great, although it does hold up decently as a teen drama. Likable, hopeful, occasionally good for a few laughs, It’s Kind of a Funny Story lives up to its title but don’t expect much more.