Anna (Buckley) increasingly suspects that her relationship with her longtime partner may not actually be the real thing. In an attempt to improve things, she secretly embarks on a new assignment working at a mysterious institute designed to incite and test the presence of romantic love in increasingly desperate couples.
Fingernails goes from a title card that states- the first sign of heart disease is often noted in the fingernails- to squeamish but bloodless bits of witnessing them being pulled off. The movie is not a horror film or even an espionage flick. Fingernails is a romantic comedy with a slight sci-fi tinge.
To its credit, Fingernails does try to upend some standard rom-com conventions. They just don’t always work.
The cinematography has this brown monotone saturation which is suppose to bathe the light in a quaint retro glow that feels warm, slightly worn and familiar. Couple this with the fingernail pulling, which is intended as a test of love and scientific proof that it is really love- and Fingernails is dipping into the emotional dark tones that horror movies depend on. The movie never fully recovers or overcomes this tonal mismatch. It adds a later of tension, and not relaxation and calm, the film doesn’t need.
Jessie Buckley’s lead character, Anna- a bubbly, slightly lonely and emotional romantic- lives in a world where all the men are even keeled, sympathetic, and unemotional or reigned in.
Anna’s supposedly scientifically proven ideal boyfriend, Ryan (Jeremy Allen White of the highly emotional, bombastic chef comedy drama The Bear) is sweet but dull, their interactions as predictable as the elementary school teaching job interviews she disinterestedly pursues. Viewers of The Bear will not buy Jeremy Allen White’s miscasting. His Bear character was a heart on the sleeve, profane, proud soul who battled adversity with smarts and emotional chutzpah- the exact opposite of Ryan’s personality. The dude just looks lost in a quiet solitude he dare not amplify when Anna’s minor relationship lies and secrets are eventually exposed. It’s a paycheck performance, one for the resume.
Her colleague in romantic research at the Love Institute, Amir (Riz Ahmed) is basically the same way. He struggles to maintain his professional distance. His budding feelings come out in micro expressions (that can get lost on smaller television screens) and awkward and shy verbal fumbles. Riz Ahmed makes effective use of his hang dog features to display this longing. It’s a perfect choice for this picture that mostly chooses restraint over passion, silent longing over big emotional declarations.
Ahmed and Buckley do have an odd romantic chemistry that keeps all this secret pining from coming off as to cool. They are the perfect actors needed for a film trying to show that pain and longing are synonymous- that wants to show the absurdity of trying to love another without risk.
The more minor genre subverters are thrown in Easter Eggs. There is not a lot of wordless eye gazing. Rain soaked encounters are not kissing moments. Just the acknowledgement of their love is enough for it to be the true end and start.
Fingernails sees love as ineffable, an ebb and flow, impervious to the scientific method and the behavioral experiment. It’s a mystery that must be.
Fingernails gets a 3.0 out of 5 or a B. It’s streaming on Apple Plus.
- Christos Nikou
- Sam Steiner
- Stavros Raptis
- August 31, 2023(Telluride)
- October 27, 2023(United States)