"Fingernails" [Philadelphia Film Festival 2023]: A thoughtful, dryly amusing relationship drama with a sci-fi wrinkle

Fingernails (2023)

Christos Nikou’s “Fingernails” is a low-key relationship drama with a dystopian sci-fi wrinkle. The filmmaker’s English-language debut, co-written with Stavros Raptis and Sam Steiner, centers on Anna (Jessie Buckley), an elementary teacher looking for another job. She takes up an open position at the Love Institute founded by Duncan (Luke Wilson), who’s come up with a new test to ensure no relationship is uncertain. The so-called test being given to couples involves each partner having a fingernail extracted; then their fingernails are placed in a microwave-looking machine with a result that determines whether either (50%), neither (0%), or both partners (100%) are still compatible. Love is hard work, yes, but love is also pain, physical pain.

For a while, “Fingernails” is absorbing and dryly amusing. Director Nikou takes an intimate approach, focusing mainly on Anna as our conduit into this world. Anna ends up shadowing the institute’s top instructor, Amir (Riz Ahmed), but as they work closely in counseling over a dozen couples, Anna begins questioning her happy relationship with long-term partner Ryan (Jeremy Allen White). Three years ago, Anna and Ryan took the test, which yielded positive results despite Ryan doubting the accuracy. Have they just taken each other’s mutual feelings for granted and fallen into a stale comfort zone? And even if Anna has developed feelings for Amir, are they actually a match?

The overall concept behind “Fingernails” is so intriguing and the details so visually witty and off-kilter, being set in a reality that looks like the world we know but offers an alternate form of couples therapy. Instead of getting turned into an animal of your choice if you don’t find a romantic partner (as in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster”), this new societal norm is likewise treated as something the viewer just takes as read. Wisely, the script doesn’t get into the weeds about how the data analysis works, shifting its concerns more onto the character dynamics at hand. Read the full review at GuyAtTheMovies.com

Grade: B -

"Fingernails" (113 min.) screened at the 32nd Philadelphia Film Festival and will hit limited theaters on October 27, 2023 before streaming on Apple TV+ starting November 3, 2023.