If you could take a test that proves you and your partner are in love, would you do it? The more important question in Christos Nikou’s quirky, enjoyable sci-fi dark comedy Fingernails is SHOULD you do it? Set in the near future, scientists have developed a procedure that can do just that, and the ramifications are predicably extreme. Those who fail the compatability test just give up; while others who score 100% stay together, knowing they are meant to be. But there are those who don’t believe in the test and refuse to take it. And the system isn’t without its faults.
Sound pretty weird? Does it perhaps sound like it springs from the mind of The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos? Well, Nikou was a Lanthimos protege at one point, and this premise is definitely in the same vein. The central story is lead by the a tremendous trio of actors. Jessie Buckley is Anna, with Jeremy Allen White as her partner, Ryan. They’ve been together a while, their relationship already given the stamp of approval. They are “meant to be”, but for Anna things have gotten pretty dull and rote. An exciting night is watching nature docs while snuggling on the couch. A teacher by trade, Anna gets a new job working at The Love Institute, where the love tests are actually performed.
They could set an entire workplace comedy series at The Love Institude and I’d be happy with it. This place also offers couples lesson designed to increase their compatability prior to testing. These lessons are like something ripped from the mind of a deluded rom-com filmmaker. There are Hugh Grant movie marathons, couples skydiving, pheromone smell tests, underwater couples staring. As for the test itself…well, this is wear it gets kinda gruesome. Each person must have a fingernail ripped off, which are then placed in a microwave-esque machine that spits out the results: 0%, 50%, or 100%.
Of course, you and I know that love can’t be broken down into numbers so easily. But in this world, people are accepting it as gospel. Those who don’t end up like Anna, who is getting along breezily with her new workmate, Amir (Riz Ahmed), as they try to help other couples pass the test. The chemistry between Anna and Amir is easy, full of laughter and conversation and they make one another feel things. He’s a great dancer, a sensitive chap with ideas about love; albeit with a possible girlfriend (Annie Murphy) he seems to really like. It isn’t long before Anna begins to question her relationship with Ryan…except, the test says they are supposed to be together, right?
It’s all very confusing for Anna, even though you and I get it. One frustrating aspect of Fingernails is that it’s never explained why anyone puts stock in the test at all. We have no shortage of scams that claim to be able to help us find our soulmate, and very few of us buy into them. So why would it work in this future? Also, what’s up with the people who take the test multiple times? If they didn’t believe it the first time, why rip out another fingernail for something you don’t have any faith in?
Digging into the details of Fingernails will only cause you to dislike the movie, and I found it’s best to invest in the performances of Buckley, Ahmed, and White, who are all so believable you can ignore how false everything else feels. In particular, I found myself wanting a movie where Buckley and Ahmed just walk and talk and fall in love, Before Sunrise-style, without having to have a fingernail torn off to prove it.
Fingernails opens in select theaters on October 27th, followed by Apple TV+ streaming on November 3rd.