Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, and Jeremy Allen White are excellent in an otherwise underwhelming sci-fi romance.
Plot: Anna and Ryan have found true love. It’s been proven by a controversial new technology. There’s just one problem: Anna still isn’t sure. Then she takes a position at a love testing institute and meets Amir.
Review: Science fiction, as a genre, is often associated with space battles, aliens, and other action-oriented elements. Sometimes, as in the films Her and Gattaca, sci-fi can be dramatic and take a slight twist on the very near future. Fingernails follows that tradition by presenting a contemporary world almost the same as our own but with one main difference: a process where a couple can be tested to confirm that they are compatible and truly in love. It is with that conceit that filmmaker Christos Nikou looks at two people, Anna and Amir, who have tested positive with others but find themselves falling in love with each other. The idea that love is more than a testable diagnosis is not new but is a touching and quirky starting point for this sweet movie. Fingernails may not be revolutionary, but it works because of the resonant performances from the talented main cast.
In Fingernails, Duncan (Luke Wilson) runs a facility where a series of exercises and a genetic test can determine with certainty if you are in love with your partner. Anna (Jessie Buckley), a schoolteacher, works at the center unbeknownst to her boyfriend, Ryan (Jeremy Allen White), with whom she tested as a 100% match three years earlier. Anna is fascinated by how the center analyzes couples through exercises like holding their breath underwater, blind smell tests, tandem skydiving, and analysis of fingernails extracted through a torturous procedure involving pliers and a wooden spoon. Seeing couples enter the facility awakens Anna’s look at her own relationship, which is further complicated as she develops feelings for her coworker, Amir (Riz Ahmed). While Amir is in a relationship with Natasha (Annie Murphy), he and Anna begin a quiet and seemingly unrequited courtship while each questions the truth behind the tests they administer.
This is not just a movie about love but how culture pushes relationships worldwide. With online dating, DNA genealogical testing, and countless other modern advances, the concept of what it means to be in a relationship has changed compared to a hundred years ago. Hell, things have changed even as compared to twenty years ago. Continuing the thematic trend from this year’s excellent Past Lives, Fingernails is categorized as a romance but only in a very unconventional way. Fingernails instead focus on the question of what love truly is and if you can define it concretely or if there is more nuance to it. Is it possible to be in love with more than one person? This is a question Anna asks, to which Duncan resoundingly says no. But Fingernails ponders whether loving someone and being in love with them are one and the same. It is a powerful question and one that Christos Nikou tries desperately to answer.
Clocking in at just under two hours, Fingernails is a deliberately paced drama with elements of quirky humor that keep it from feeling languid. Watching multiple couples, to varying degrees of success, undertake the testing process gives us a good look at how pairs of all kinds can come together. In some cases, the tests prove that the lack of visible chemistry is an indicator, while others bring the whole process under review. The film’s title refers to the brutal and hard-to-watch process of extracting a fingernail to test in a machine whose operation is never truly explained. But, for all of the questions not answered, Nikou’s film works thanks to the effortless chemistry between Buckley and Ahmed. Both actors are excellent here, especially Buckley, who is far more contained than she has been in films like Men, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and The Lost Daughter. Jeremey Allen White is also very good as Anna’s boyfriend, Ryan, who does not question the relationship plateau that has caused Anna to question. Annie Murphy and Luke Wilson are good in their smaller roles, but Riz Ahmed continues to show why he is one of the best actors working today.
This movie is a very restrained and quiet film that never delves deeply into the subject of love on a verbal level. Much of the film lingers on the unspoken, with cinematographer Marell Rev focusing on Ahmed and Buckley’s glances while the other is not quite looking. The almost retro production design makes Fingernails feel like it is out of time, distancing it from the science fiction themes within the story. Christopher Stracey’s score is good and elevated by classic romance songs performed in French (you have to watch to find out the reason why). Nikou co-wrote his English-language debut with Sam Steiner and Stavros Raptis and misses hitting the points it is trying to convey. Much of the film’s build-up feels anticlimactic in the end due to the lack of any concrete resolution, leaving a lot of questions unanswered. Much of that is likely intentional, as Fingernails is not about explaining things but rather asking questions that the characters are too afraid to ask. I wish there were a bit more fleshed out for the supporting characters, who seem to get the short end of the stick here in favor of trying to drive Anna and Amir together.
Fingernails, premiering on AppleTV+ and in limited release on November 3rd, is a nice movie and one that is certainly romantic. It is a movie that fills your heart with questions and hopes for Anna and Amir, as well as their significant others, while also providing harsh realities that question when, if, and how these two well-suited partners could be together. Fingernails is a showcase for Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed in a quiet and restrained story that will make you feel good as much as it makes you feel bad. This movie is about heartache more than romance, but it does not build enough on an intriguing premise. There is a missed opportunity here to have explored things about the process that Christos Nikou and his co-writers developed, but it is enough to watch these actors share the screen together. I wanted a little bit more out of this film, but Fingernails is still worth a watch.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/fingernails-review/