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‘Fingernails’ places love’s natural order and a sci-fi-like process on opposite ends

Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, and Jeremy Allen White star in Christos Nikou’s film, where society at large affirms love by a rather painful procedure.

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Love is both a rewarding experience and one of the biggest games of chance you’ll ever play. It’s almost a guarantee that it will never look the same as the point in time you obtained it. Some couples grow closer together as they reconfigure who they are, and others realize the puzzle pieces don’t fit as well. In the world of Christos Nikou’s Fingernails, there’s an actual process looking to remove any of the guesswork from the “are we right for each other” relationship dynamics. It might sound like a relief – adults already have their minds occupied by a plethora of things besides the potential anxieties romance can bring.

The procedure is not given a thorough investigation on how it works. But it involves a couple having a fingernail taken from one finger, and then a machine calculates how much and if you both are in love with one another. Fingernails' first scene involves a radio dedication of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” from one person to another because positive results seem hard to come by. Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are married and feel settled into a nice, comfortable life together. Three years prior, they took the test, and it only affirmed what they thought they already knew.

Anna’s professional life changes as she decides to forego working as a school teacher and look for a job at the Love Institute. – a place founder Duncan (Luke Wilson) has created for couples to undergo relationship-strengthening exercises such as shock therapy and a scenario involving watching a romantic film in a theater with a fire suddenly breaking out. Affection is treated as something that can be nailed down to a science, but we all know love doesn’t quite work out that way. It’s organic, and a lot of the beauty is wrapped inside the spontaneity of how it happens.

With her new job, Anna meets Amir (Riz Ahmed), the top instructor at the institute, who takes her on as an apprentice. In a slow-moving manner, Anna starts to develop feelings for Amir – she remembers he has a gluten allergy and has an affinity for dancing like she does. Well, Ryan doesn’t do that. He has an aversion to trying out new things like pottery and is comfortable in the routine they’ve built. How could this conundrum be? The test said they were perfect for each other. The co-writing team of Nikou, Sam Steiner, and Stavros Raptis look to deconstruct how we prescribe to the fluidity of love.

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One way they do that is by allowing the space to show how these different relationships look and even showing us other ones and how the main characters view them. It’s not that Anna and Ryan don’t love each other, but Buckley and Allen White compose that a certain amount of distance has built between them. Regarding Amir, Anna is often shown looking at him with a certain amount of butterfly-layered admiration. Amir is initially muted, but you can tell something is ready to burst inside him. They both counsel a young couple in their early 20s brimming with the romantic, fantastical love that many dream about. This is a testament to the acting of all three people involved, as they all appear genuine and believable.

Why is it that process for someone else to decide – especially when you consider the expansiveness of the procedure? Love hurts sometimes, but enough to give away a fingernail? There’s an elusiveness to explanation that can be seen as a plus and detriment to the entire concept. Fingernails shine a light on some people who denounce entirely doing the test at all, but then others who are in committed relationships wanting to for extra assurance. It can be attributed to swiping culture and seeing so many choices that some people are antsy and always on the lookout. In that case, the entire process could be considered foolish, but the industrial role is a bit puzzling.

Just when you think Fingernails is ready to divulge the answer to what it feels about the game of love and the roles we play, it pulls back and elects for ambiguity. It can be frustrating, but perhaps there is no correct answer because there is no order to this emotion – even as we try to box it in.