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Telluride Film Review: ‘Fingernails’ is a Surprising Delight That’s As Romantic As It is Weird

Whenever something can surprise you at a festival, that’s a special occurrence. I went in to see Fingernails almost completely blind here at the Telluride Film Festival. In very short order, the movie won me over and never let me go. Funny, romantic, and deeply weird, it’s a flick that’s decidedly up my alley.

Fingernails consistently delighted me. Now, it runs a bit long and ends up exactly where you expect it to, but so many of the details in between are incredibly pleasing. Strong acting, a deadpan sense of humor, and a strong hook all combine to make this movie far more than the sum of its parts. Get on its wavelength and you’ll be in for a treat.

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The film takes place in a world where a test has been invented to accurately determine whether a couple is in love or not. Removing a fingernail, the machine can tell you if you’re both in love, neither in love, or only one party is. Anna (Jessie Buckley) and Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) tested positive years ago, though at least on Anna’s part, the relationship has lost its spark. A teacher by trade, Anna instead applies for an gets a job at The Love Institute, where couples can prepare and train for their test.

On the job, she meets Amir (Riz Ahmed) and there’s an instant connection. Their friendship becomes deep, which Anna believes may be love. She’s been told someone can’t love two people, and she’s already tested positive with Ryan. What to do? As she prepares couples and administers the test, her mind begins to focus on figuring out if Amir and her are meant to be, or if it’s really Ryan that’s the one for her?

Jessie Buckley is excellent here, with Riz Ahmed right behind her. Don’t sleep on Jeremy Allen White, either, who he has less to do here. Buckley is our focus, though Ahmed really mixes well with her once he enters the picture. Buckley has unique chemistry with both men, helping to really set up the triangle of sorts that develops. Also in the cast are Annie Murphy, Luke Wilson, and more, but this is really about Ahmed and especially Buckley.

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Filmmaker Christos Nikou really announces himself here. Nikou’s direction is somewhat simple, but very strongly clicks with the material. Keeping all but the made up technology essentially unseen gives the work a timeless quality. The screenplay he wrote with Stavros Raptis and Sam Steiner is incredibly funny, but with a huge heart. There’s dark laughs and light laughs, but always a sense of romanticism at play.

Fingernails is not at all what you’d expect. There’s a little Yorgos Lanthimos here in this one, just with more of a sense of romance. By the end, your heart may well swoon, but only after your sides have split from laughing. With a little tighter pacing, this would have been in the upper echelon of my Telluride films. As it stands, it’s still one of the better ones and a huge surprise. This will sneak up on you folks, I can almost guarantee it.

SCORE: ★★★


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Written by Joey Magidson

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