Genre: Romantic Drama
Director: Christos Nikou
Release Year: 2023
Runtime: 1h 53min

Technology and love. Or technology versus love. This is a theme that has permeated media in the last few years. There are two shows, for instance, that almost mirror Fingernails and its idea that love can be determined through DNA science: The One and Soulmates. And others that are peripherally in this world, like Made for Love and Black Mirror episodes like “Hang the DJ.” It’s all to say that years and years of dating apps and their wacky algorithms, along with DNA testing services have given a bunch of content creators the same idea: what is love, really? Is it pre-determined whom you’re compatible with? Is it written into our DNA? Or is true connection formed through mutual animalistic attraction and whatever it is that mysteriously makes two people each others’ perfect match? These movies and shows have explored this, with varying success.

I can see Fingernails being a tough hang for a lot of people (aside from the fingernail ripping). It’s a little bit sci-fi, but mostly it’s a romantic drama. As such, it’s caught between these two worlds and may not appeal to fans of either. Some may tune in thinking they’re about to see a version of Maniac, what with its retro-tech thing, and its themes about loneliness and longing. And some may be thinking that they’re going to be seeing the slow burn of a burgeoning love story. And in some ways both would be right. Which also means both would also be wrong. Though, frankly, it trended toward the latter more than the former.

The plot is pretty simple. Anna (Jessie Buckley) is in a relationship with her serious boyfriend, Ryan (Jeremy Allen White). They are a couple who have passed the fingernail test. Which means they’ve both had a fingernail ripped out, put into a machine and had 100% match results. The machine says they should be a couple, so they believe it. Though all is clearly not so swell in relationship land. They’re fine, but clearly there is no spark between them. Anna loses her teaching job, but finds a new one working at the Love Institute. Think of it as the Princeton Review of the Love Test. It trains couples to become closer in order to pass the test 100%. Because — as far as we can tell — the test only gives results of 0%, 50% or 100%. Meaning neither partner is in love with each other, or one is in love the other, but it’s not reciprocated, or both are in love and a compatible match. The science here is unexplained.

But Anna is soon connected with her co-worker, Amir (Riz Ahmed). Connected on a professional and personal level. It’s soon clear that the two of them have a deeper connection. But, of course, only the test can tell people if they should be together. Which, from what we gather, is actually less likely than more. Which means long-term, happy couples who have taken the test and not gotten 100% have broken up. Because their DNA says so. Anyhow, this burgeoning flirtation moves us from the non-science sci-fi to the “romantic” part. Because Amir and Anna continue to watch couples come into the clinic looking to fall deeper in love, training them on how to love one another, but at the same time see their own relationship flourish. Which, of course, makes the whole relationship with Ryan a push-pull of confusion. After all, he’s a 100% match! But are Anna and Amir a 100% match? Does it matter? Who dictates love? All questions that the film toys with and goes real deeply emo on.

I think where the movie kind of trips over its own premise is in its pacing and quietness. It makes us wonder how truly compatible Anna and Amir are. There are no laughs. No lightness. It’s all emotion and silence. The clinic and all of the sets are dark and claustrophobic and devoid of sun. There’s an intensity that feels incredibly heavy and not something that is built for a long-term relationship. Like you can’t imagine these two having kids and hanging out with other parents at the school picnic laughing and eating deviled eggs. They’re not that couple. And this is not that movie. It’s slow. And just a bit depressing. The actors are good, though sometimes they seem to be in a daze. Riz Ahmed does enjoy that lost-soul glare. They also allow Ahmed to use his natural English accent, but Buckley is asked to do an American accent, which is somewhat suspect at times. But they’re both very strong on the emotional end of things, and they do sell their circling relationship. I think I enjoyed this a little more than I’m letting on, but it’s definitely not something that hasn’t been done to date. But by leaning into the adult relationship side of it, rather than cautionary tale of science replacing emotion, we get at it from a different angle. In others words, we could chop out the fingernail-DNA-matching thing out of the narrative all together, and just have a story about a waning relationship being taken over by a new one and we’d be just fine. But, as we know, we don’t make many adult relationship movies anymore. Without the fingernail hook, this is just a movie with absolutely no disgusting torture techniques turned into modern science.