Is love quantifiable? No, but that doesn’t stop Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou from exploring that question over two dull, excruciating hours in Fingernails, his second feature and first in English. Like his directorial debut Apples, which concerned a man recovering from an amnesia-inducing illness that spreads worldwide, Fingernails concocts a high concept that attempts to look at an aspect about the human condition. In this case it’s love, as Nikou and co-writers Sam Steiner and Stavros Raptis imagine a world where a couple’s love can be measured as an objective figure through technology. Directed as a droll dramedy with a cast that can all do better than this, Fingernails is a pointless effort at finding something more from a truism.
Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) are a seemingly happy couple. They’ve been together for several years and are “positive,” which refers to the love compatibility test they took to prove they are 100% in love. After the school she works at closes down, Anna gets a new job at a love institute run by Duncan (Luke Wilson). Some convoluted exposition tells us the love institute resulted from too many people scoring a 0% on the love test when tech first arrived. This institute puts couples through a series of exercises designed to strengthen their bond before they take the test, in hopes it improves their likelihood of a perfect result. Anna takes the job, and in the first sign of her unhappiness with their relationship, doesn’t tell Ryan about it; he considers the institute and its exercises pointless, so Anna says she got a job at a different school, lest he turn upset at the truth.
Anna gets hired on to administer the exercises and tests, sequences Nikou uses to establish that the institute has no idea what it’s doing. The exercises are arbitrary, usually thought up by staff in the hopes it will prove something, and couples go along with it. It’s an opportunity for the film to repeat the message contained within its concept that love isn’t a science, matters of feeling not reduced to quantifiable measures. Don’t think it’s funny to watch couples be forced to sing love songs in French at a karaoke bar? Maybe you’ll laugh when one partner gets blindfolded and has to sniff out the other one in a crowd of people in their underwear. Or maybe when they’re made to skydive together because the adrenaline does something that might make them have a closer bond. It’s all mumbo jumbo, as if a single person needs to be convinced of this.
The core of the story begins when Anna meets Amir (Riz Ahmed), a co-worker she has to shadow as part of her training. Amir says he has a girlfriend he’s 100% compatible with, but his awkward delivery of bad jokes suggests he’s not the most affable guy. Nevertheless, Anna develops feelings for him, which throws her into a crisis. It’s hard to see why she would fall for Amir––their chemistry is nonexistent––so Nikou uses scenes of them singing and dancing to let viewers know something is there. Maybe the boring, sterile relationships between Anna and Amir, as well as Anna and Ryan, are supposed to reflect that they live in a world where romance has been absorbed into the realm of facts and figures. Regardless, it’s about as fun to watch as it is to do the actual love test, which requires both participants to have a fingernail ripped out before being scanned in some retro-looking microwave.
There’s so much dead space and so little insight in Fingernails as it trudges toward a conclusion that can be figured out in the first five minutes. Anna’s feelings for Amir act as evidence that love is strictly qualitative. But why is the film trying to prove a point that doesn’t need to be proven? Who thought it was a good idea to make a movie that does nothing but argue with itself over a fact as obvious as “water is wet”? These are the kinds of questions Fingernails inspires, with its moronic insights making me want to think about anything other than this nullity. But it’s impressive to see a film about love only able to generate disdain.
Fingernails screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, opens in theaters on October 27, and arrives on Apple TV+ on November 3.