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Fingernails review: Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed lead a romantic dramedy marred by body horror

Fingernails review: Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed lead a romantic dramedy marred by body horror

What if a simple test could tell you whether you and your partner were actually in love?

That's the premise of Fingernails, in which couples can learn the answer through a test that involves ripping out their fingernails. So romantic, right?

Anna (Jessie Buckley) is in a happy long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Ryan (The Bear's Jeremy Allen White), having tested positive a few years prior. But when she starts working for the Love Institute, the organization which administers the tests, she meets instructor Amir (Riz Ahmed) and starts to question the vagaries of her own heart. The concept is inherently absurd, transforming the misery of trying to find a love match on a dating app into literal torture (not an inaccurate assessment of the experience).

Buckley shines here, particularly in the comedic moments after making her name in a slew of bleak AF dramas. Her romantic conflict carries the action and she nails Anna's attempts to put her relationship under "scientific" scrutiny, drawing huge laughs in particular for a moment of physical comedy involving electro-shock therapy. Similarly, Ahmed is delightful in this lighter romantic space. He plays yearning exceptionally well and brings a grounded-ness to the otherwise bonkers conceit.

Fingernails (Apple films)
Fingernails (Apple films)

apple films Jessie Buckley and Jeremy Allen White in 'Fingernails'

The film is undercut by its use of body horror, needlessly depicting the fingernail removal process multiple times. It discomfort feels deliberate, but it goes too far, which only serves to reduce the emotional impact overall as it begins to feel gross and silly, rather than profound. Its interest in horrifying its audience (or at least making them deeply uneasy) emphasizes the film's ultimately shallow approach to its subject matter.

There are interesting concepts at play in the ways Fingernails explores loneliness and desire. Notably, the test doesn't account for long-term compatibility but the more intangible presence of love. But the film doesn't go far enough in the ways it questions the science and accuracy of the test. This lack of a firm resolution or point of view throws the pacing off, making the movie feel longer than its 113 minute running time.

Ultimately, director Christos Nikou seems to want to say that no one knows anything about love, actually. While that may be true, it's hardly compelling. Grade: B-

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