'Fingernails' Review: Jessie Buckley & Riz Ahmed Get Their Pliers Crossed
Pull their fingernail, it'll either be fun or emotionally devastating in the worst way possible. Director-writer Christos Nikou makes a jump across the pond for an English-language feature with Fingernails, a sci-fi romance drama with a low-key approach, co-written by Sam Steiner and Stavros Raptis. Anna (Jessie Buckley) is a thirtysomething young woman in a steady relationship with Ryan (Jeremy Allen White), having received a positive result previously in a formally accepted procedure where a couple's romantic compatibility is tested by analysing their fingernails. Switching careers, Anna gets a job at one of these ''love institutes'' and ends up meeting Amir (Riz Ahmed), a co-worker who makes her question the validity of the tests as she finds the two of them having a lot in common with each other.
There are plenty of avenues that Nikou and fellow filmmakers could have explored with this particular premise and they avoid the most obvious (and possibly the most commercial) one, which would've been the ethics baked into science fiction and how it relates to something as abstract as love. Instead, the focus is on intimate conversations and pushing one's boundaries as Anna finds a new way to exist, smile or communicate with Amir as the group activities are just as much about them as they are about people assigned in said group. Nikou quickly discovers the tone that he's going for with the film, presenting it with patient yet sensual photography by Marcell Rév, production designer Zazu Myers and set decorator Kari Measham's sets that especially reserve a lovely shade of red for important moments, as well as some delightfully dry humour that is also a frequency that both Anna and Amir can hear.
Much of that consistent awareness of tone and purpose comes alive thanks to perceptive, heartfelt acting featured in the pictures. Buckley smoothly and smartly shifts her character's posture and openness depending on whether she feels stuck or is keen to uncover something slightly dangerous but still healthy, whilst Ahmed forms Amir's presence with a soft-spoken quality before you realise that he's doing that to leave room for listening. Even White manages to add compassion to Ryan's bluntness, which makes the couple's relationship feel real as you're not afraid to tell your partner how you feel since there's a mutual understanding that you can have a conversation about it too if need be.
Some of the scripting and character work unravels a little bit toward the end as Nikou maybe takes a risk with spontaneity instead of nuance as far as characters are concerned, though it also doesn't really have anything to say about the science of it all either which does motivate Anna and Amir by the end. Yes, we do recognise and even sympathise with their emotions and desires but at its best, Fingernails could've committed to inflicting short-lived pain before we wait with bated breath for the results, unsure if what we've observed is in fact love.
Smileys: Tone, acting
Frowneys: Some issues with ending
That one exercise based on 'Mission Impossible' must require a lot of paperwork with liabilities and whatnots.