‘Fingernails’ movie review: Sci-fi romance tests humanity against technology, but plays it too safe

‘Fingernails’ movie review: Sci-fi romance tests humanity against technology, but plays it too safe
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Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed in ‘Fingernails’

“Watching a love story feels safe, being in love doesn’t,” Riz Ahmed’s character says early on in Fingernails, a film in which the world handles love with clinical precision. Literally. AppleTV+’s latest film transports to a new reality where before venturing into a relationship, couples test out their compatibility to be a ‘positive’ or a ‘negative’. While immersive and well-paced, Fingernails, ultimately leans too heavily on its tender moments. The film knows that it is about the frictions that emerge when humanity is rendered through technology, but does not fully reach out to explore a spectrum of emotions. In short, this love story also plays it safe.

Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are one such couple. They are also one of the rarer ones, proudly sharing their 100% positive result with everyone. Director Christos Nikou succeeds early on in creating a balance between eerie and absurd. People move about with bandaged fingers, since the process to test your love involves the painful extraction of a whole fingernail. Then, you and your loved one get to know if you are ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. Nikou imagines a world where love is announced as a disease, a diagnosis to determine if you are sick. At the testing clinic, a poster hangs in the background listing out the symptoms of love: stomach aches, heart palpitations, sleeplessness, and singing. “Take the risk out of love!” it encourages.

Fingernails

Director: Christos Nikou

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White, Annie Murphy, Luke Wilson and others

Runtime: 113 minutes

Storyline: Anna and Ryan’s relationship is tested as she takes up a job at a clinic where you get a diagnosis for the ‘health’ of your relationship

A still from ‘Fingernails’

A still from ‘Fingernails’

A school teacher by profession, Anna finds herself applying for a position at one such clinic. Here she is partnered with Amir (Riz Ahmed) who runs multiple exercises to test a couple’s strength. Anna’s love for Ryan also begins to be tested as she finds herself devoid of a meaningful connection with him, while her friendship with Amir grows.

Nikou is not a stranger to this genre — of testing humanity at the altar of technology — but he is certainly still finding his voice. With Fingernails, Nikou charts a slow journey, and arrives at a very specific location, where he finds warmth in the algorithmic buzz. Shot intimately, the film pulls you into an absurd normal, and blends in the jarring bits seamlessly. Jessie Buckley puts her humanness first in the performance, and stands out as others submit to the results of the relationship test. She conveys a yearning that Anna is herself yet to realise. As Anna, Buckley slips into an ease, that she later finds herself restless to leave behind.

However, even as Anna moves ahead in actions that steamroll the norm, her restlessness does not seep into the pace or the script of the film. Nikou’s film is novel, and provides a smooth ride for nearly two hours, but could have improved with an ending that shifted the tonal gears a bit.

Fingernails is available for streaming on AppleTV+

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