Fingernails (2023)

Weird ‘Fingernails’ could use some polish

    It’s easy to quantify sex. Just ask Masters and Johnson. But what about love? Can one’s romantic feelings be evaluated and measured in a laboratory? That’s the unanswerable question Greek director Christos Nikou ponders in his ponderous “Fingernails.”

   The chemistry is certainly there in the form of Oscar nominees Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed as love researchers in helpless denial of their mutual attraction. But the accompanying physics are absent, as Nikou and his co-writers Stavros Raptis and Sam Steiner struggle to exert gravity on a conceit so light and airy it repeatedly threatens to float away.

   It’s certainly not for the squeamish, unless you revel at the thought of love-struck clients having their fingernails yanked off with pliers and tossed inside a double-wide microwave for analysis. The results of a couple’s validity may vary. If you’re lucky and your love is true, you score 100 percent. If it’s unwittingly one-sided, you get 50 percent, which is no more beneficial than the dreaded 0. Then, it’s time to stop wasting your time and start looking elsewhere.

    The premise is certainly intriguing – to a point. The trouble is that Nikou’s parable is utterly devoid of energy, dragging along interminably. At 113 minutes, it could easily have been one-third the length in conveying its rather feeble message. It’s not like we didn’t already know that love is an utterly subjective phenomenon immune to examination. Nikou compensates with his favorite filler, quirkiness. “Fingernails” has it in spades, testing one’s already limited tolerance for the twee.

    The young couples under the tutelage of Buckley’s Anna and Ahmed’s Amir are borderline delusional in their expectations of love. So much so, that they are willing to subject themselves to demeaning compatibility tests in readiness for the excision of their index fingernail. Nikou obviously finds this darkly humorous. You will likely beg to differ. He lost me at the point in which dozens of patrons blindfolded and clad in their BVDs sniff one another in search of their partner’s unique “scent.” I’m tempted to say it doesn’t pass the smell test, but …

   The two components that kept me remotely involved in the lead-up to a disappointingly ambiguous ending were Buckley and Ahmed. They are superb at mining gold from a leaden script that has no idea what to do with them. It’s a situation where Anna and Amir are so anal-retentive they refuse to acknowledge the obvious. So, they settle for exchanging amorous glances, brushing against each other while passing through doorways and other innocent bits of physical contact.

   At least Anna has an excuse. She’s in a long-term relationship with Ryan (Jeremy Allen White, “The Bear”) a genial dweeb who can’t help that he’s terminally dull. They’ve passed the “love” test TWICE, yet they are utterly passionless. Or, at least in contrast to the flame Amir ignites in Anna. But what’s his excuse? Amir is so introverted he appears to always be on the verge of vanishing into the ether. And why does he lie about having a partner? Why is he so determined to deny himself happiness? If Nikou knows, he’s not letting on, leaving it to us to fill in the blanks.

    He subscribes to the “will they or won’t they” concept. That query does introduce an element of suspense, but even that starts to wane. As for the sci-fi aspects, it’s interesting that the events transpire in the retro-future. The cars, the music and the absence of cell phones suggest it’s the 1980s, but to Nikou’s credit, the story is timeless in its pursuit of an unsolvable mystery. Therein lies the essence, I suppose, that the heart wants what it wants, defying scientific explanation.

    As for my heart, it desired as much of Buckley and Ahmed as it could get. They are adorable together and the sexual tension is palpable. And credit Buckley for performing underneath the world’s worst hairstyle, a rust-colored mop that looks like it was hacked at by a far-sighted beautician. As for Ahmed, true to form, he’s a well-coordinated dreamboat, acting cool without acting cool.

    Both actors deserve better than what Nikou offers in his attempt to emulate the weirdness of his countryman, Yorgos Lanthimos, the filmmaker behind “The Lobster.” While “Fingernails” is considerably less nihilistic, it covers much of the same territory in its exploration of the ultimate enigma – love. Thus rendering this nail-extracting facsimile little more than a petty-mani.

Movie review


Rated: R for language

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White and Luke Wilson

Director: Christos Nikou

Writers: Christos Nikou, Stavros Raptis and Sam Steiner

Runtime: 113 minutes

Where: On Apple TV+

Grade: C

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