Sometime in the future in an English speaking country, The Love Institute has made the claim that it can determine if a couple are truly in love, delivering scores of 0, 50 or 100%. Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White, TV's 'The Bear') have ‘passed the test,’ but many, including their good friend Garth (Varun Saranga), do not believe in it. Anna clearly doubts her own results, even lying to Ryan when she is hired by the Institute, which delivers its scores after a series of tests end with analysis of one of each of the couple’s “Fingernails.”
Laura's Review: B-
Much like cowriter (with Stavros Raptis ("Apples") and Sam Steiner)/director Christos Nikou’s "Apples," which dealt with surrealistic scientific methods to deal with an amnesia pandemic, his latest inflicts weird science on society. The premise behind “Fingernails,” though, especially the titular part (the film begins with a quote about fingernails often signaling the first signs of a heart problem, true in the physical sense), is so silly it is difficult to figure out just what Nikou is satirizing. In the end, it merely seems the obstacle to what turns out to be an otherwise traditional romantic comedy. Thankfully the film’s leads are so deeply sketched by Buckley and Ahmed, their silent yearning for each other so well dramatized, we can overlook the film’s bizarre nonsense.
The film presents its differing philosophies in its first scene, Carrie (Clare McConnell) and Andy (Jim Watson) and Liane (Nina Kiri) and Garth enjoying an evening at Anna and Ryan’s home. Carrie and Andy, who’ve taken the test successfully twice, entertain, dancing to a record on the stereo (dancing is a frequent theme), so enthralling Anna she suggests taking lessons to Ryan.
But this couple doesn’t appear to share any interests at all, from their television viewing habits to outside activities and the one they pointedly do share – the fatty bits on a rib eye steak – Anna suppresses to selflessly give hers to Ryan. And when the elementary school teacher who’s lost her job is hired at the Institute, she lies, telling Ryan she will be working at Pinewood Elementary.
At the Institute, Anna learns that the sound of rain is piped in because it is deemed romantic, just like the French language everyone but she appears to butcher. Institute founder Duncan (Luke Wilson) informs Anna that 87% of those who take the test fail, but insists that they are constantly seeking improvement. After training in such exercises as using a self-shocking device to imprint deep feelings when a partner leaves the premises and simulated movie theater fires to measure a couple’s protectiveness of each other, Anna is paired to train with Amir (Riz Ahmed) and we can immediately see where all this will head.
It is lovely to see the way Ahmed looks at Buckley as she stares dreamily off into space, a slight smile on her lips, or how her eyes drift up to his when she is supposed to be monitoring the underwater direct eye contact of Rob (Christian Meer) and Sally (Amanda Arcuri), a couple Anna roots for so strongly, Amir will intercede with Duncan when they are reassigned to another trainer.
Eventually, Anna will have to admit her lie to Ryan, leading to an awkward meeting at a company party where, to her shock, Anna has to remind Amir’s significant other Natasha (Annie Murphy, TV's 'Schitt's Creek') that he is dangerously gluten intolerant.
More fingernails are ripped out by pliers, the results clearly all wrong. Is the film anti-science? Anti Internet dating? Or just anti-absurd societal pressures? The latter seems the most likely, but “Fingernails” is best viewed to be swept up in the chemistry clearly evident between Buckley and Ahmed.
Robin's Review: B-
Years ago, in this utopia world, a test was developed, requiring a fingernail, to determine a couple’s compatibility and true love for each other. Anna (Jessie Buckley) took the test with her live-in boyfriend, Ryan (Jeremy Allen White), but has her doubts. She is determined to find out the truth and will go to drastic lengths in “Fingernails.”
If you think, just for a moment, about the title of this view, in a Big Brother kind of way, of selecting your “true love,” it evokes a wince in me. “Fingernails,” the word, refers to the keratin-composed claws at the ends of our fingers. But, it is also the object of torture since the Middle Ages and before. “We’ll pull your fingernails out with a pair of pliers,” was the kind of torture the Spanish Inquisition or the Nazi Gestapo would promise and inflict.
Here, as said, it is the catalyst for the test between two people that will prove compatibility of 0% (no true love exists), 50% (only one feels love) and 100% (the much sought after true love). The trick is, you have to “pull the nail out with a pair of pliers” to start the test.
Anna, uncertain of her feelings for Ryan, three years since their tests, is looking for a job. Openly, she is interviewing for a position as a teacher. Secretly, though, she applies for a job at the Love Institute, the facility that performs the compatibility tests – and gets it. She does not tell Ryan and lies that she took the school job, instead.
On her first day, she is partnered with Amir (Riz Ahmed), her mentor and teacher, but her primary motive is to prove her non-compatibility with her significant other. Along the way, though, she begins to feel attracted to Amir and uses her newfound scientific knowledge to prove her love for her mentor. She is treading on very dangerous turf.
As science fiction goes, it is a look into the malfunctioning near future of our society. With an epidemic of loneliness gripping the country, particularly with the less-communicative male portion of the population, I can see where the idea for “Fingernails” found its seed, but it still makes me wince.
Apple TV releases "Fingernails" in theaters in NY and LA on 10/27/23, expanding on 11/3/23 when it will also begin to stream on their platform.