Retro futuristic romcom Fingernails explores the science of love
Anna (Jessie Buckley – Wild Rose) is one of the lucky ones. Not only has she found her true love in Ryan (Jeremy Allen White – The Bear) she’s got the certificate to prove it. Anna and Ryan live in a slightly altered future in which a scientific, slightly gory new test involving fingernails has been developed that can tell if the person you’re with is ‘the one.’ Score a 100% match and you’re meant to be together forever.
Yet despite their perfect test result, Anna is starting to have doubts about the relationship. Hoping to learn some tips and tricks to strengthen her bond with Ryan she takes a job at ‘The Love Institute’ headed by love expert Duncan (Luke Wilson) – a centre where couples cannot only take the test, but take a series of classes to improve their chances of passing if they’re not sure it’s love.
Whilst working at the institute Anna is paired with Amir (Riz Ahmed – The Sound of Metal) who is one of those responsible for coming up with the classes. Together they coach new couples hoping to prove they’re in love, yet it’s the relationship between Anna and Amir that begins to grow. But they can’t be in love, right? They’re each in a relationship with other people, and each have the test results to prove they’ve already found their one.
The central concept is kitschy fun, something akin to both Michel Gondry’s I Heart Huckabee’s and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster – which isn’t surprising when you find that Fingernails writer/director Christos Nikou has worked as an assistant director to Lanthimos before. The production design in the test centre is full of retro equipment and pseudoscientific posters designed to raise a giggle, and there’s a delightful dark humour to Fingernails despite its slightly silly concept.
The classes our lovesick characters take are also hugely entertaining. From watching Hugh Grant movie marathons to doing tandem skydives, Pavlovian electro-shock therapy and cringeworthy French language karaoke, Fingernails pokes fun at the whole industry centred around romance and dating and our ideas of what exactly makes people fall in love. There’s plenty of laugh out loud moments as we riff on traditional rom coms.
It’s powered by a sweet central relationship between Buckley and Ahmed, who have undeniable chemistry. Anna is the heart of the film, her earnest belief in actual love grounding the story when it could risk becoming farcical during its sillier moments. Amir is enchantingly enigmatic, his initial appearance as a self-assured ‘party line’ man slowly giving way to something much more vulnerable and secretive.
While there are plenty of hints to suggest the accuracy of the test is not all it’s cracked up to be – couples who clearly shouldn’t be together staying together, others who seem smitten breaking up because they didn’t get 100% – there’s frustratingly little questioning of the wonky science at the centre of the plot. Fingernails portrays a genuinely interesting idea of a society where love has been quantified and the outcome it’s had on people, but it only really scratches the surface of what that society is like – I do wish we had seen more and explored deeper.
Rather than digging deep on science and society, Fingernails uses Anna and Amir’s relationship to raise questions about what it takes to build a good relationship and stay together, as we move towards a slightly more serious second act. Is love alone enough? Can someone love two people at the same time? For all the comedy of the first half, it all builds to a surprisingly emotional if not unexpected ending.
I was pleasantly surprised by this unassuming film that’s a mishmash of sci fi, romance and black comedy all in one. It perhaps fails to capitalise fully on its initial intriguing premise, but I was swept up by its engaging storyline and charming characters, nonetheless. I’ll take more Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed in romcoms please – during Fingernails funniest moments they’re a perfect pairing.
Fingernails is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival. It will have a limited cinema release from 27th October 2023 before streaming on Apple TV+ from 3rd November 2023