a woman smiles, and the man sitting next to her looks over
Credit: Apple TV+

Critics often argue that the golden age of the rom-com is past, in part because the genre has mostly been pushed off the big screen. But the smaller financial stakes of streaming have given creators an opportunity to experiment with the formulaic genre in ways that weren’t possible in the heyday of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. 

Christos Nikou’s Fingernails is one quietly bizarre, lovely result. The movie is set in a near future in which scientists have perfected a test for love. All you and your partner have to do is pull out one fingernail each, stick them in a machine, and you’ll get a readout telling you if you’re in love. 

Anna (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) have been certified compatible—but Anna, guiltily and reluctantly, feels they’re drifting apart. To try to understand love and her relationship better, she takes a job at the Love Institute, where she works with Amir (Riz Ahmed)—with whom, computer tests or not, she seems to have a lot more chemistry than she does with her boring boyfriend.

The business of studying and cultivating love at the Love Institute is both embarrassingly sincere and a helpless boondoggle; the film is filled with awkward pauses and uncomfortable glances as love simply refuses to work the way it’s supposed to. The machine breaks down and the rom-com arc is pulled out of its groove, just like the gruesome extraction of those fingernails, as Anna and Amir ooze hope, despair, and heartbreak, carefully (but ineffectually) swabbed away with antiseptic.

The interracial casting is a deliberate nod to the kind of love that is sometimes forbidden in the world offscreen. But the film is successful because it manages to create its own logical, nonsensical rules, which love then snaps. I suspect some rom-com fans will find the movie too odd to embrace. But hopefully some will appreciate the magical way in which the movie puts its wrong but right fingernail on your heart. R, 113 min.

Apple TV+

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