Fingernails (2023, dir. Christos Nikou)

by | Nov 6, 2023

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 113 mins

UK Distributor: Apple TV+

UK Release Date: 3 November 2023

WHO’S IN FINGERNAILS?

Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White, Luke Wilson, Annie Murphy, Christian Meer, Amanda Arcuri, Nina Kiri, Clare McConnell, Katy Breier, Juno Rinaldi, Jim Watson, Varun Saranga

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Christos Nikou (director, writer, producer), Stavros Raptis and Sam Steiner (writers), Cate Blanchett, Coco Francini, Andrew Upton and Lucas Wiesendanger (producers), Christopher Stracey (composer), Marcell Rév (cinematographer), Giorgos Zafeiris (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

In a future where romance is scientifically confirmed, two people (Buckley and Ahmed) unexpectedly fall for each other…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON FINGERNAILS?

A positive effect of the so-called “Greek Weird Wave” – a term used to describe a trend within postmodern Greek cinema – is that it’s brought absurdism back into the mainstream, and along with it a collection of out-there filmmakers with bold and uncontemporary new visions. Yorgos Lanthimos, for one, got the trend going with oddities like Alps and Dogtooth, and is now receiving critical acclaim for his absurdist upcoming awards contender Poor Things. Others like Athina Rachel Tsangari and Argyris Papadimitropoulos have, despite not becoming quite as internationally well-known as Lanthimos, gained their own cult following with films that are equally strange to the uninitiated. Then, there’s Christos Nikou, who after debuting with his Greek absurdist satire Apples is already making the leap to American cinema with Fingernails, a film that is clearly striving to bring the sensibilities most common within the Greek Weird Wave but for a slightly more conventional crowd.

The results, though, are mixed. While Nikou certainly has an eye for bizarre social commentary – keep in mind, his last film was about a pandemic that caused amnesia – here it is noticeably watered down in favour of a more straightforward romance that, despite its rather sweet nature, plays it a bit too safe for its own good.

In the world of Fingernails, a scientific test has been introduced which determines once and for all how compatible the love between two people can be. The procedure involves the slightly torturous method of pulling out peoples’ fingernails and then putting them in a machine that measures how well they match: if it’s 100%, then you’re both good to go; 50% means only one of them is truly in love; and I think 0% is self-explanatory.

Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are one of the surprisingly few couples that have gotten the perfect score, but while Ryan is content with their confirmation, Anna is less certain. She ends up getting a job at the local Love Institute, run by Duncan (Luke Wilson), where she shadows fellow instructor Amir (Riz Ahmed), whose job is to guide potential couples through a series of strange tests to prepare them for the decisive fingernail-pulling. Anna soon finds herself becoming more drawn to Amir’s sensitivity and good nature, and it’s clear that he feels more or less the same, but since the science decrees that Anna is meant to be with the affable but unadventurous Ryan, it sends them into a state of uncertainty regarding their obvious feelings for one another.

At first glance, Fingernails seems like the kind of sci-fi tinged romantic-comedy that’s easy to watch and even easier to predict the eventual outcome. However, Nikou – who co-wrote the script with Stavros Raptis and Sam Steiner – is clearly eager to lean hard into the absurdist nature of this somewhat dystopian narrative, where cold and calculated science has more or less taken control of human emotions such as love and basic empathy. What prevents him from doing so, though, is a story which doesn’t take as much time to explore its strange concept as it should, leaving certain vital pieces of information either unsaid or humorously glossed over. Why, for instance, staging exercises that include staring at each other underwater and simulating a cinema fire would be effective ways of bringing potential couples closer together – or at least, enough to raise the heart palpability found in their fingernails – is never fully explained, even though it often comes across as being weird for the sake of it without a reasonable enough explanation.

The full-on absurdism one would expect to find in something made by a filmmaker plucked straight out of the Greek Weird Wave, is here replaced by more conventional plotting that is firmly rooted in the traditional romantic template. It is by no means a bad one, for there are some genuinely sweet moments between Jessie Buckley’s Anna and Riz Ahmed’s Amir that do make their romantic connection much more plausible – and it certainly helps that both are great actors who also share palpable chemistry with each other – enough to where, by the end, you really do want these people to end up together. However, since it is following that more recognisable formula, it doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out where a story like this is going to end up, which no amount of bizarre add-ons can entirely cover up.  

Part of me wonders if, in making his film a bit more accessible for Western audiences, Nikou was advised to tone down the absurdism by the powers that be. By doing so, he’s made a film that is frustratingly imbalanced, for it’s too safe a narrative to fully embrace its surrealism, and at times so odd that it borders on pure silliness. If it leant into one or the other a lot more, rather than try to find a compromising middle ground, perhaps Fingernails might have been able to land gentler than with the wobbly thud that it does. Alas, it isn’t a terrible film, with more than a few shining spots, but one that feels like it has wasted a lot of its own potential.

If anything, though, all of its fingernail-pulling will certainly leave you appreciating your nail-biting habits a lot more.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Fingernails is a sci-fi tinged romance that has its moments, many of them belonging to the sweet chemistry shared between actors Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed, but its watered-down absurdism in favour of more conventional plotting leaves it frustratingly imbalanced.

Three out of five stars

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