by Warren Curry
J.R. Sawyers’ “Nerve” has had success playing smaller festivals, and certainly features an intriguing character at its core. “Nerve” was obviously shot on a limited budget, yet that doesn’t stop Sawyers from attempting to make a stylized film despite the modest production values. His efforts result in a mixed bag.
“Nerve” focuses on a 20-something young man named Josh (Tyler Langdon) who suffers from a debilitating social anxiety disorder. His co-worker, Aurora (Laura Alexandra Ramos), recognizes his affliction and asks Josh to be the subject of an experiment for her dissertation with the intention of curing him. As you may have already predicted, the relationship between Josh and Aurora eventually becomes intimate, which is complicated by the fact that Aurora is in the midst of a falling out with her boyfriend.
There are scenes that take place during the early part of the experiment that go from humorous to uncomfortable, especially one in which Josh’s attempt to chat up a woman at a club is thwarted by the noise level. As the experiment continues, Josh invites a group of homeless people to live in his apartment, an idea that understandably doesn’t go over so well with his arrogant roommate, Walt (Peter DiVito).
The film’s best moments are its most esoteric. Despite the serious subject matter, the movie occasionally veers into offbeat comic territory with surprising success. The acting is fairly shaky throughout, most noticeably when Sawyers asks his cast to carry substantial dramatic weight (Ms. Ramos falls especially short in a few scenes), yet the humorous detours provide territory which works better for Langdon’s performance.
There’s an artificiality that permeates the scenes, and what’s largely to blame is the various skewed camera angles Sawyers uses and the distractingly obtrusive lighting. The director is an ambitious visual stylist, but here he lacks the resources to execute his vision…and the judgment to refrain from making such bold choices. The talent that worked on this film, both in front of and behind the camera, are all works-in-progress.
That said, “Nerve” definitely has admirable qualities, particularly in the way it treats its subject matter and protagonist with such sensitivity. The mark of just about any good director is one who truly cares about his/her characters, and Sawyers displays that quality throughout. If he takes that quality and learns to work within his confines, his future films should be well worth watching.
“Nerve” clearly shows that Sawyers has intriguing ideas, and with this experience under his belt, he likely has a much better understanding of how to achieve his filmmaking goals.
Director: J.R. Sawyers
Cast: Tyler Langdon, Laura Alexandra Ramos, Peter Divito
Not Rated, 83 minutes
(Available on DVD)