FINGERNAILS | USA | 2023 | 113m | English
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White, Luke Wilson, Annie Murphy
Directed By: Christos Nikou
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.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 2.5 out of 5
Fingernails tackles an ambitious story mixing romance, comedy and science fiction, that despite an interesting premise and strong cast led by Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White, unfortunately does not fully capitalize on the ideas at play and conjures up a disappointing watch.
Knowing that Christos Nikou is Yorgos Lanthimos protege, the expectation is set that Fingernails is going to be a strange, darkly funny experience unlike anything you have ever seen because that is what Lanthimos is best known for. With the premise of the film being about love being scientifically proven by a test that involves taking people’s fingernails, and a lead cast of Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White, the film sounds like it is sure to be the next breakout hit. The actual results are more likely to divide viewers, as while the story is intriguing and the performances are strong, the lack of clear direction for the story prevents the film from sticking the landing and will leave some viewers with a sour taste in their mouth.
Anna and Ryan are in love… or so Anna thinks. They have been together for a long time, and their romantic compatibility has been confirmed by a controversial and groundbreaking scientific test that can tell whether two individuals are in love or not. But, when Anna begins to question her love for Ryan, she takes a job at the company that administers the test, becoming one of the test examiners. There, she meets Amir, who she begins to develop a deeper connection with over the course of work, only fueling her desire to find out if Ryan is her one true love.
There is no denying that the premise and themes explored in Fingernails are intriguing. Being able to scientifically prove love, one emotion that has always been felt and never quantifiable, is a great concept for a stranger than normal romantic story to unfold in. Throughout the film, there are some genuinely funny moments that lean hard into the strangeness of the film’s concept, while also delivering some spine tingling moments during the love test sequences that are sure to have viewers squeaking in their seats as fingernails are yanked. The film handles the high-concept science fiction elements well, but stumbles with the individual character arcs. Anna is questioning her relationship the entire film, but after almost two hours of story, she remains in the same place she started by the end of it. We don’t get to know a lot about Amir, leaving him a bit of a mystery that fuels Anna’s interest in him, but without making a lasting impression on the audience. Ryan draws the short end of the stick, receiving the shortest amount of screen time of the three main characters, making him feel like a plot element in Anna’s story rather than his own character. This lack of character development turns a quirky romance that marches to the beat of its own drum into an uneventful film that fails to deliver on the setup of the story’s first half.
While having narrative issues with the film’s story, no blame can be placed on the film’s cast as Buckley, Ahmed and White are all great in their roles. Buckley, as always, is radiant as Anna as she takes you on Anna’s internal struggle, grappling with the notion that she may not be in love with Ryan anymore. Her chemistry with both Ahmed and White is great, selling both relationships with ease, creating the whimsical and tender lead character needed to ground the romance of the story. Ahmed is good, playing Amir’s kindness and warmth with a genuine humbleness, while keeping Amir a bit of an enigma at times that plays into Anna’s attraction towards him. White plays Ryan’s blind faith in the love test impeccably, so committed to his relationship with Anna and the idea that the results of the test are fact, not even letting the possibility cross his mind that he could not be in love with her. But sadly, the film severely underuses White by not giving him enough screen time to make a more lasting impression on the film, as I would have loved to dig deeper into his character’s insecurities and need for the results of the test to be unchangeable. The supporting cast, despite having both Luke Wilson and Annie Murphy who are always wonderful comedic additions which are a must for a romance, sadly do not get the time to shine and the film fails to fully utilize their talents to propel the main character’s arcs over the course of the film.
Where Nikou excels in telling this story is the film’s aesthetics. The colour palette for the film is very warm, full of reds and oranges, making the film feel reminiscent of a cozy fall day which is the perfect ambience for love to develop in. It evokes feelings of When Harry Met Sally at times, an admirable quality for any romance, and the film has a fun soundtrack to build up the romantic elements of the story. For the science fiction elements, Nikou designs the test to be more old school in appearance, with giant computers in small rooms featuring little black screens acting as the device, allowing the story to remain focused on the characters and the fingernail pulling, rather than showing flashy technology to constantly remind viewers that this is a science fiction story. The film is full of strong artistic choices from Nikou, showcasing his promise as a filmmaker, but you are either going to connect with the story being told here or be left feeling let down by it by the time it reaches its conclusion like I was.
Despite bringing a romantic comedy-esque story to the science fiction story, an ambitious blending of genres that I fully support, Fingernails missed the mark for me. There is no denying that the lead cast of Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White are all excellent in the lead roles, and despite finding the right balance between science fiction and the individual character stories at play, the screenplay does give the characters a proper arc which makes the film’s ending a frustrating destination as there has been little development since the beginning of the film, preventing Fingernails from being the deliciously engrossing science fiction romance it wanted to be.